Kartiina Wright may have been the biggest mystery coming into the 101st California State Track and Field Championships at Veteran's Stadium.
Oh, the University City sophomore had won the San Diego Section 400-meter dash and while 54.83 seconds isn't slow, it doesn't turn heads.
She was a real unknown, but for a very good reason.
- - -
- - -
Instead of competing against the high-powered fields at the Arcadia Invitational and the Mt. SAC Relays, her coach, John Hutsel, entered her in lesser meets like Irvine, Mt. Carmel and the Willie Banks Invitational.
Hutsel knew she was good but he wanted her to build her confidence.
That certainly worked as she came out of the state meet prelims as the No. 1 qualifier with a Personal Record 54.17, and yet still there were those who figured she had run all out while others were just qualifying, setting up the big race.
But when the runners approached the finish line in the finals, there was Wright in her powder blue singlet leading the group, winning at 53.93 seconds.
"I just ran as fast as I could," said the lithe 16-year-old. "When I run, I place no limits on what I can do."
This is a runner who tries to not even think about her race until she approaches the starting line, feeling worrying about who the competition might be or what time she needs to run is self-defeating.
"I don't even look on the internet to see who's doing what because I don't think that's healthy," she said with an ever-present smile. "I go with the flow. During the race I decide what I need to do to win because that's all that matters."
In front of a large, boisterous crowd Saturday, Wright did not lead until coming off the turn and once she did take control with 100 meters remaining, no one could match her combination of speed and strength.
"When I was moving up, it seemed like everyone was dead already," she said. "I still had more in me and I realized I was going to win. I'm really tuned in to how I feel, so I run with confidence. When I finished I thought to myself, "oh, I just did that!'"
At the start of the year she and Hutsel set two goals. Win a state championship and run 53 seconds.
The entire season she could visualize herself doing just that so when she had her chance, there was no surprise or panic.
She was double pleased when she saw 53.93.
"I had more in me if I needed it," admitted Wright is already is hoping to run in the 52s next year. "I could hear my mom (Madrine) cheering for me and my dad Tim is my biggest supporter.
"Even when I don't trust myself, I can trust coach Hutsel. So when you're finishing, you want to do the best you can for them."
Wright said she may run some meets this summer before she turns her attention back to playing for the Centurions' volleyball team this fall. Carrying a close to 4.0 Grade Point Average is important to her as well.
But first she planned to celebrate with her family by going out for dinner.
Asked about where she wanted to go, she didn't hesitate.
"The Cheesecake Factory," she said. "It's perfect."
Kind of like her 400-meter victory in the state meet.