When Darnesha Griffith returned to Orange County for her senior year, she brought a tremendous amount of flair back to the Trabuco Hills track and field program. But there was still some lingering uncertainty.
Would she be the same athlete who finished second in the triple jump at the state finals as a freshman, or the one who wanted to quit the team the following year? Could she reach the heights that many thought were within her abilities, or would she only keep scratching the surface of excellence?
Griffith posted the county's top marks in the long jump, high jump and triple jump. She won two titles at the Orange County Championships and another at the Southern Section Division II finals. But she hadn't reached the goals she thought were possible.
Then came the Masters Meet two weeks ago, when Griffith unleashed her potential during one five-minute span. She cleared 5 feet 9 inches in the high jump, then hustled over to the long jump area, where she flew 19-4 1/4. The high jump mark equaled the best in the state this season, and her long jump was the state's third-best mark. Both were also the top qualifying marks heading into the preliminary rounds of the state championships.
"Masters was definitely the highlight of my season," said Griffith, The Times Orange County girls' track and field athlete of the year. "We had an easy workout that week and I had all of my energy."
Her relatives were also impressed with the results.
"We're very proud of her," said her uncle, Al Joyner, who won a gold medal in the triple jump at the 1984 Olympics. "We wanted to see that she wanted it. That's the torch that's been lit. I hope it goes to a flame when she goes off to college."
In addition to the high jump and long jump, Griffith also qualified for state in the triple jump, an event in which she placed sixth at state last year, while at Vacaville High.
At the 1998 state meet, Griffith qualified for the finals in all three events, but then had some bad luck. She fouled on each of her long jump attempts and finished last in the field of nine.
In the high jump competition, she was among a group of four athletes to clear 5-8. Griffith, thinking she had the advantage, convinced the judges and competitors to move the bar up two inches rather than one for the next height.
In Griffith's last attempt at 5-10, she missed being the only athlete to clear the height when her finger caught the bar on her way down. It dropped her into third place.
Griffith completed her hard-luck day by placing seventh in the triple jump.
"It was an unfortunate day," Trabuco Hills Coach Jack Recla said. "She really wanted to be a state champ. She had told Al the night before, 'I'm going to go there and break some records.' "