All-Area Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year: La Cañada High's Claire Murray skies over hurdles into history books

Though the hopes and aspirations were nearly boundless for La Cañada High junior Claire Murray, the goals were narrowed and focused.

The hurdler enjoyed a sophomore season in which she was healthy and broke the school record in the 100-meter hurdles.

For an encore, Murray had a pair of key prizes in sight.

“From the beginning of this year, she wanted to do two things,” outgoing La Cañada track coach Casey Mollett said. “She wanted to get to the [CIF Southern Section] Masters Meet and she wanted to win a Division III championship. That’s really it.”

Murray accomplished both objectives and more in a wildly successful 2017 campaign.

She captured a Rio Hondo League 100 hurdles title, became her school’s first inaugural Southern Section girls’ hurdles champion and advanced to the Masters Meet as she qualified deeper into the postseason than any other area girls’ athlete.

For those accomplishments and more, Murray was selected the All-Area Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year by the sports writers of the La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader newspapers.

“I basically ran one meet my freshman year and then I hurt my ankle,” Murray said. “So, my sophomore season was all about proving to myself that I could compete. I advanced past Rio Hondo League finals and got to the CIF finals. It was a good year for me, but I wanted more this year. I wanted to get to the next level.”

In 2016, Murray finished third at the Rio Hondo League finals in the 100 hurdles in a time of 15.18 seconds, while placing fourth in the 300 in 49.44.

Murray advanced to the Division III championship in the 100 hurdles and finished fourth in a school-record time of 14.83, which broke the previous school-best mark of 15.2 by Erin Tardini, set in 1990.

“It was quite an accomplishment to break a record that stood for more than 15 years,” Mollett said. “I didn’t know [Tardini], but Claire is motivated and driven. I suspect she’ll continue to break her own record.”

In pursuit of further excellence, Murray made two important offseason changes.

The first was dropping basketball, which Murray had played her freshman and sophomore seasons. The second adjustment was to stop running the 300 hurdles.

“She didn’t like running the 300, so why do it?” Mollett asked. “She was already running both the 4x100 and 4x400-meter relay, so it was best to keep it to three events.”

With those tweaks and coming off a strong 2016 campaign, the upcoming 2017 season seemed to offer Murray a chance for even more success.

One other extracurricular activity tripped her up.

Murray, a member of the La Cañada Choir, toured Italy from March 23-31.

While the trip was hardly a burden, Murray’s musical engagements caused her to miss the start of the season, which included the Rio Hondo League opener versus Temple City on March 23.

It wasn’t until April 6 versus San Marino when Murray made her debut.

Two days later, the rusty La Cañada native took her shot against some of the state’s best competition on the second day of the 50th annual Arcadia Invitational on April 8.

On that morning, Murray raced to a sixth-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles open competition in a time of 14.85.

“That’s when I knew she was capable of having a fantastic year,” Mollett said. “That was early in the season, before the midway point and she hadn’t had much practice. Yet, she still turned in a good time.”

Despite the strong start, there were bumps along the way, including on April 20 in league action versus Monrovia.

Murray false-started the 100 hurdles competition for the first time all season.

It wasn’t the failure that stood out that day, however, but the resolve.

Murray, who normally competed in the 400- and 1,600-meter relays, was a late entry into the 300-meter hurdles.

“I felt like I owed it to my teammates to score some points after the 100 hurdles,” Murray said. “I hadn’t run it in a year, but I wanted to do my part.”

The junior won the competition in a mark of 50.30 in her only appearance in the long hurdles this season.

“She’s an excellent teammate and a great friend to everyone on the team,” said La Cañada incoming senior Kamryn Creighton, a member of both relay teams who has competed with Murray since both were members of the L.A. Falcons Track Club in middle school. “Those are the kind of efforts that show you how dedicated she is.”

Murray’s first postseason breakout effort took place May 5 at the Rio Hondo League finals at South Pasadena High.

She won the 100-meter championship by over a second in 14.98, while she was a member of the league runner-up 1,600-meter (4:12.99) and third-place 400-meter (51.09) relay squads.

Murray’s postseason run continued into the CIF Southern Section Division III preliminaries at Estancia High on May 13.

While La Cañada’s 400-meter relay team saw its season end with a 26th-place finish (51.60), Murray turned in a banner effort by finishing first in the 100-meter hurdles in a personal-record time of 14.60.

Murray’s mark was the best overall in Division III and put her on the path to accomplishing the first of two girls: winning a Division III championship.

“I think it’s when I finished first at prelims that I believed that I could win,” Murray said. “I was the No. 1 seed, was going to get the best lane assignment, why not?”

Whether it was a sprained ankle or an Italian getaway, there have been obstacles in Murray’s path. At the CIF Southern Section Division III Championships at Cerritos College on May 20, Mother Nature offered a different type of hurdle.

The swirling gusts in Norwalk created a strong headwind (-5.1 meters per second) that wreaked havoc on times and performances.

It was in this background that Murray shined and made history.

Though she was off her personal-record pace, Murray still persevered in winning a championship in a mark of 14.71 seconds as she became her school’s first-ever girls’ hurdles champion.

“To win a championship was something I dreamed of and worked toward,” Murray said. “It was wonderful to cross that finish line and to be a champion. It’s something I won’t forget.”

What Murray didn’t know at the time was that her mark was the seventh-fastest across all four divisions competing that day and qualified the hurdler to the Masters Meet at Arcadia High on May 26.

“In one day, in one event she completed both her goals,” Mollett said. “She showed what she was capable of.”

Unfortunately for Murray, her wonderful story turned sour at Arcadia.

The locale that first provided her with the confidence needed to embark on a fantastic season proved her undoing as Murray kicked the fourth hurdle in the Masters 100-meter hurdles, fell and did not finish.

About 10 minutes afterward, an injured Murray was carried out of the stadium in the arms of her father, Paul.

Murray can’t forget that day, nor will her body allow her. Murray bears two scars from the fall that she has not fully recovered from, one in the inner right knee and one on the left kneecap.

The good news for Murray is that perhaps no one in the area is better trained to overcome hurdles.

“I think I’ll probably treat that as motivation, but also as a minor setback,” Murray said. “I want to ensure that I don’t do this next, but I won’t let that fall define me. It was a great year.”

andrew.campa@latimes.com

Twitter @campadresports

Copyright © 2017, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
69°