All week long, Chuck Titus, El Dorado High School track coach, has been giving high jumper Lori Svoboda a crash course on positive thinking.
Titus has repeatedly tried to get Svoboda to visualize that she is going over the bar at 5-feet 10-inches, a mark that only LaShawn Bride of Long Beach Poly had cleared this season in the Southern Section.
On Friday night, Svoboda managed to go higher than even her coach had imagined, clearing 5-10 to win the event in the Masters meet at Cerritos College in Norwalk.
The performance gave Svoboda, a 16-year-old sophomore, the top mark in the state this season and established her as the top seed for the state championship next weekend at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. It was also the fifth-best mark in the nation this season.
What is more, only two girls have gone higher in Orange County track history. Yleana Carrasco of Anaheim set the county mark of 6-0 in 1985 and Ursula Lovely of Kennedy cleared 5-11 the same year.
"I couldn't believe it," Svoboda said. "But after I made 5-8, I knew I could do it."
Svoboda cleared the mark on her third attempt but failed to come close on three attempts at 5-11. Svoboda's previous best mark was 5-8 1/2 established at the Bishop Amat Relays earlier this season.
"My first attempt at 5-10 wasn't very good," she said. "I hit the bar with my head. My second attempt was pretty good. . . . I almost made it. That pumped me up for my last attempt."
The bar was moved to 5-11 and Svoboda was the only competitor remaining. She was hurried into three jumps by meet directors so that the boys' competition could begin, but failed on each attempt.
"Maybe I better start visualizing the bar at 6-feet next week in practice," she said.
Sprinter Sheri Bertell of Mission Viejo demonstrated that she is fully recovered from a late-season stomach ulcer by qualifying for the State meet in both the 100 and 200 meters.
Bertell, a junior, finished fourth in the 100 meters in 12.44 and fifth in the 200 meters in 25.65. The top five finishers qualified for next week's meet.
Last week, Bertell ran a personal best of 12.03 in the 100 meters, narrowly missing the county mark of 11.89 established by Estelle White of Saddleback in 1982.
"I didn't get out of the blocks as quickly as I did last week," she said. "One of the girls in the race false-started and that made nervous. I was shaking in the blocks."
Fred Almond, Mission Viejo track coach, said that Bertell has been steadily improving in each meet since she became anemic after taking antibiotics for her ulcer.
"Sheri was a very sick girl at our last dual meet against El Toro," Almond said. "I thought her start in the 100 meters last week was almost picture perfect. She didn't get the good start tonight, but she did qualify in both events for Sacramento."
Santa Ana Valley sprinter Paul Peters suffered his first loss of the season in the 400 meters, losing to Travis Hannah of Hawthorne. Hannah was timed in 47.80 and Peters was a distant second at 48.12.
"That hurt my pride," Peters said, who has the section's best time of 47.34 in the event. "I ran his race and it cost me.
"I've got to get out to an early lead in the opening 200 meters to beat him and I didn't do that. I can't let Travis have the lead in the final 100 meters because he's a little bit faster than I am."
Hannah went wire-to-wire for the victory and pulled away from Peters down the stretch. Peters also qualified for the state 200 meters by finishing fourth in 21.75.
"In a way, I'm glad I lost," he said. "I was getting complacent. I know what I have to do to beat Travis. I'll get him the next time."
Even a case of pneumonia couldn't keep Nick-John Haiduc of Servite from qualifying in the 800 meters for the state meet. Haiduc finished third in a very competitive race, running a personal best of 1:53.97.
Haiduc nearly fell at the outset when his feet tangled with an unidentified runner but another strong finish assured him of missing Servite's graduation exercises next Saturday.
"I don't know how I caught myself to keep from falling," he said. "Something like that can kill you big time. At the end, I saw three guys trying to pass me and I said, 'No way. I'm going to the state meet.' "
Haiduc has run the 800 meters only five times and said he has yet to go into the race with a plan.
"I don't have any strategy because I haven't run the race enough to plan anything yet," he said. "All I want to do is win."