Signing Day: Oregon Lands CA 400m Champ Katriina Wright

Katriina Wright was just a sophomore when she went sub-54 to win the CIF-State Track and Field 400-meter title in May of 2019. Now a senior, the University City sprinter is expected to fulfill her long-held desire to sign with the University of Oregon on Wednesday, the first day of the National Letter of Intent signing period. (Photos by DeAnna Turner and Pat Rhames)

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When University City High's Katriina Wright pondered which college she would announce as her choice on today's early National Letter of Intent day, she had already positioned herself to make the right decision.

The 2019 CIF-State 400-meter track champion at 53.93 seconds had visited many of her suiters, most during a long trip with her dad, Tim, and mom, Madrine, that started at the University of Oregon and worked its way south.

It started in Oregon because when Wright was a freshman at UC, she told her coach, John Hutsel, that's the college she wanted to attend.

And, after spending a week in Eugene before stopping off at UC Davis, Cal, UCLA and USC, with a side trip to Stanford, she ended up right where she started. 

Oregon was still No. 1 and she will sign with Ducks today.

"There was an energy there," said Wright. "The conversations I had with the faculty there were amazing. And there's such a track and field history there. It just felt right."

Wright, from San Diego, is the third known CA athlete to choose Oregon, joining distance runner Harper McClain (St. Helena/NC) and sprinter Camden Wheeler (Monterey Trail/SJ).

McClain won the Division V title at the 2019 CIF-State Cross Country Championships and last weekend in a co-ed time trial, she posted one of the fastest 5Ks on the track in CA history.

As a sophomore at the 2019 State Track Championships, Wheeler ran third leg in helping Monterey Trail to victory in the 4x100 relay (41.47), placed fifth in the 400m (47.45), and ran second leg on the 4x400 relay that placed sixth (3:20.37).

Hutsel isn't surprised but he encouraged her, as he does all of college-bound athletes, to keep her options open.

"It's a natural fit," said Hutsel. "She likes hiking and the outdoors. I just reminded her she'd be signing with a school, not a coach, and with her, you knew she was listening and she's always honest about how she feels."

Wright, who carries a 3.8 GPA, is still pondering a major, although she's leaning toward Communications with plenty of Psychology classes on the side which she says may well lead her toward coaching when her running career is over.

"I could see myself coaching other people," said the 17-year-old. "You learn so much about your kids and at UC, I've been a little assistant coach to some of my teammates. I have the experience I've gotten there. I know how to run the 400 and I hope to really be an accomplished runner one day

"I chose the 400 over the 100 -- I chose the path of pain."

Other schools like Arizona State, Duke, LSU, UNLV, Mississippi State and the University of Florida had made their pitch, but everything Wright said she experienced on her trip to Eugene -- aka TrackTown USA -- confirmed her almost magnetic lure to Oregon.

She's also more than a little anxious to get back on the track -- any track.

The Centurions senior's last  race was the 2019 State Meet, May 25, 2019, where she came from behind off the final turn and powered her way to victory over Long Beach Millikan freshman Samarra Monrroy (54.25) and Vista del Lago's Ceonna Pipion (54.46).

That time of 53.93 was the third-fastest individual in San Diego Section history and the hope was to move into second behind four-time state champion Monique Henderson, who owns the State Meet record of 50.74.


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Wright, like every other track athlete, saw those dreams wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She's hoping by spring she'll be back.

"Track is my second home and I'm homesick," said Wright. "I've run whenever I can but it's really frustrating. All of the high school tracks are closed. I love track and my track family. I've gotten to know Samarra, and I really like her. All of my track family knows what we're all going through.

"Not being able to run the last six months has made me physically and mentally tougher. The Coronavirus is a blessing in disguise which I believe will help me in the future. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason."

One thing you will not get her to talk about are her times.

"I don't chase times," she said. "All I want is to do the best I can do. I didn't even look at my time on the scoreboard at State because all that mattered was winning. If I set as a "goal" running 52, what happens when I do it? I don't want to put limits on my ability.

"At the State Finals I told myself to give it my all like never before.  The first 250 meters were really a blur but with 150 remaining I started picking it up, getting faster and faster and faster. I found energy I never knew I had while all around me the other runners' energy was depleting. I felt extremely strong and told myself to push, push, push."

She went along when Hutsel opined it would be best if she just worked through smaller meets, passing on Arcadia and Mt. SAC, while building her confidence.

"We agreed that State was the goal," said Hutsel, noting that Wright probably went out too fast in the prelims as a freshman but learned her lesson.

"That's what's so good about Katriina, she listens and she bought in. She got her dream. She's really a racer, she loves major competition -- she has that Eye of the Tiger.  So much can happen to become an elite athlete, but she has what it takes."

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