James Knowles' speed was a boon throughout the season for the St. Francis High track and field team, as he quickly cleared every hurdle en route to consistently winning the 110- and 300-meter hurdle races.
Long before the first meet in early March, Knowles' confidence level had surged after putting in countless hours training and conditioning for both events so that he would be in line for a potential banner season.
Knowles played a large role in making the Golden Knights one of the top teams in the ultra-competitive Mission League. The junior also proved he could stand out in some of the top meets the state had to offer.
"My goal coming in was to have a great season, and I had a better understanding of the things I could do," said Knowles, who captured league championships in both races before advancing to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet. "I had started earlier with my training because I wanted to have more endurance for this season.
"I also had some goals, like winning league and going far in CIF. I'm very proud of myself. It's one of the best years I've ever had in track and I'm looking to use it to help me for next year."
Knowles got plenty accomplished this season, from setting a school record in the 110 hurdles to being the lone area athlete to qualify for the Masters Meet. With all that he was able to accomplish, Knowles was selected the 2011 Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year, as voted on by the sportswriters and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
From the start of the season, Knowles could do little wrong on the track.
In a season-opening league meet against host Harvard-Westlake on March 3, Knowles stepped to the forefront. He won the 110 and 300 races in 14.70 seconds and 40.48, respectively.
"That meet helped me get things going," Knowles said. "That was a big meet going up against them."
As the season progressed, Knowles continued his steady improvement. He recorded a fourth-place finish in the 110 hurdles at the prominent Arcadia Invitational on April 8 at Arcadia High. He then won a pair of league titles during the league finals at L.A. Valley College on May 5, which included a then-personal-best mark of 14.77 in the 110 race before clocking 39.43 in the 300.
Most athletes would have been satisfied with their season at that point. That wasn't the case for Knowles, who excelled at the CIF Southern Section Division III prelims at Estancia High on May 14. Knowles took both his heats and was third overall in the 110 hurdles in 14.64.
St. Francis Coach Pat Donovan said Knowles came into the season motivated.
"He showed maturity and had a lot of confidence," Donovan said. "With all of that, he showed he was focused and capable of doing some big things.
"He had strong races early on in the season, like at the Harvard-Westlake meet, and he realized he could have a phenomenal season."
At the CIF Division III finals at Cerritos College in Norwalk on May 21, Knowles enjoyed his best day of the season and became the first St. Francis athlete to compete in the Masters Meet since Andrew Steben, a former two-time All-Area Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year, took part in the pole vault in 2006.
Knowles finished ninth in the 300 in a personal-record of 38.38 and qualified for the Masters Meet. Earlier, Knowles set a school record of 14.62 in the 110, but missed qualifying for the Masters Meet by one slot. He was an alternate for the 110, but Knowles' name wasn't called.
However, Knowles participated in the 300 in his quest to reach the CIF State Meet in Clovis. His bid to advance to the state meet in the 300 fell just short. Knowles clocked 38.71 to finish eighth in the race, which was also held at Cerritos College on May 27. He needed a top-five mark, or he had to meet the qualifying standard time of 38.26, to advance to state competition.
"It was very nerve-wracking because it was a new experience for me," Knowles said. "Coming into the meet, I knew I was there for a good reason.
"I worked hard at getting to that meet and I did my best throughout to try to get to state."
Teammate TJ Tree, a senior hurdler, said he could see Knowles working toward a spectacular season.
"He started the season so focused on the hurdles," Tree said. "He just kept getting better and his times continued to drop.
"He's a good all-around athlete and he's really consistent at what he does. He's got great speed and he goes out there very relaxed."
Knowles will have another opportunity next season to equal or surpass all of his accomplishments set this season.
He nearly made it to state, but Knowles said coming up short might put him in the right frame of mind to clear the next hurdle and milestone in his career.
"I'm getting ready for next year and I have a lot of new goals," Knowles sad. "One of those will be to get to state and do well there.
"I'm going to try to master my technique more in each race."