The road back was long and hard, but Kristy Kierulff finally found her way to another State high jump title.
The Esperanza junior won the competition at Cerritos College, where she had taken the crown as a freshman in 1992. For both titles, she cleared 5 feet 10.
Her defense of that title was anything but illustrious though, as Kierulff found that a regimen of volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter fatigued her.
"Last year wasn't real good," the Empire League champion said. 'I was just hoping to get to the (State) prelims and get another shot at (State)."
After clearing her opening height of 5-4 on her third attempt Friday night, things looked dismal for Kierulff, but she rebounded and qualified for the final in the seventh position, jumping, 5-6.
"She almost didn't even get there, so we have got to be pretty happy," Esperanza head Coach Al Britt said.
Saturday's finals brought only three misses, all at 5-11, one-quarter of an inch higher than her personal best.
The clean slate earned Kierulff the State championship, as two other jumpers, defending champion Tracye Lawyer of Carpinteria Cate and Jamilla Churchill of Oakland Bishop O'Dowd, cleared the height, but had numerous misses in the competition.
The day turned out to be just as prosperous for Foothill junior Tara Oettinger, who handled the long-jump field to garner her biggest victory.
The county champion in four individual events last April saved her best effort for the fourth round, jumping a personal best of 19-7 1/2 to hold off Bakersfield's Laren Parker, who jumped 19-6 1/2 on her last effort.
"I wasn't even thinking about a State championship before this year," said Oettinger, who advanced only to the section finals in the event a year ago. She is Foothill's first girl State champion.
"I wasn't really surprised because I've done it in practice before," Oettinger said about the winning jump.
Esperanza's distance-running combination of Courtney Pugmire (5:01.74) and Carrie Caulkins (5:02.05) finished only one spot apart, fourth and fifth respectively, despite taking different routes to the 1,600-meter final.
Pugmire won the county title at 1,500, then aced the field in the Empire League meet before winning the section Division II race and finishing fifth in the Masters Meet.
Caulkins, on the other hand, was the county and league runner-up, missed one of the nine automatic Masters Meet qualifying spots, but was given another chance after some athletes who had qualified in the long jump opted to compete in other events.
"I had a respiratory problem this year and a mental problem because of it," Caulkins said.
Newport Harbor thrower Gina Heads capped her prep career by capturing two third-place finishes in the shotput and discus.
The senior threw 44-8 3/4 in the shot to begin her afternoon, then returned to throw a personal best 146-1 on the final toss of her high school career.
"I was sort of down after the shot, so that last throw really made my day," said Heads, a Stanford-bound senior.
Edison senior Julie Koudelka ended not only her prep career, but her track career with a fourth-place finish in the 800, in 2:13.57.
Koudelka, an all-county soccer selection for the Chargers, will play soccer at UCLA in the fall.
Newport Harbor senior Wade Tift finished second in the shotput (58-8 1/4) and Saddleback senior Mel Lete earned a sixth-place finish in the 300 intermediate hurdles (37.88).