SOUTH PASADENA — A season's worth of aspirations came full circle for South Pasadena High sophomore Claire Kieffer-Wright on June 2 at Buchanan High Memorial Stadium in Clovis.
Kieffer-Wright clinched the area's first CIF State Track and Field individual championship in two years by tying her previous personal record jump of 5 feet, 10 inches, which was nearly an inch better than second place and placed her second to none.
The prodigious high jumper's amazing season, which included setting two new Rio Hondo League records and helping her team win a CIF Southern Section Division III championship, was capped the same way she started less than six months earlier in Fresno.
That is to say, Kieffer-Wright, this year's All-Area Girls' Track and Field Athlete of the Year, as voted by the sports writers and editors of the Pasadena Sun, La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader, was flat out dominant.
"I was a little surprised to win at state because there was a lot of good competition," Kieffer-Wright said. "But I also wasn't that surprised. I knew what I was capable of doing and I've set myself to higher standards since the season started."
Kieffer-Wright's first great jump of 2012 came during the offseason on Jan. 21 at the California Indoor State Meet at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, five miles southwest of Buchanan High.
The dual-sport athlete, who last hit 5-3 at the 2011 CIF-SS Masters Meet as a freshman, set a new indoor meet record with a winning leap of 5-8, an instant personal best that also broke the meet mark of 5-6 set by Temecula's Malia Cravens in 2010.
"When I look back, that was kind of the start of this year. I was surprised to win because I wasn't even doing an eight-step approach, I was doing a six-step approach and I cleared 5-8 for the first time," Kieffer-Wright said. "Going there, I wasn't planning on winning. But from that point on, my goal was to win state."
Prospects continued to soar for Kieffer-Wright as the season officially began, especially when she hit a new personal best and then state-leading 5-10 at a league dual meet versus Blair on March 22.
"There was no questioning her talent. I thought she was capable of 5-10, if not 6 feet," South Pasadena assistant CB Richards said. "The only thing that might have been surprising is how quickly she hit the mark. Most seniors will never get to 5-10 and here's a sophomore nailing that height."
For a while, though, the accomplishment seemed unlikely to be duplicated.
"It's funny that her early jumps this year had people thinking she'd do that every time," South Pasadena Coach PJ Hernandez said. "Jumping 5-10 is no joke and she did it twice."
Kieffer-Wright finished second at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational on April 7 with a jump of 5-6 and also posted the first of two notable individual wins when she captured the high jump at the Pasadena Games (5-6) on March 24.
The efforts, though, didn't seem quite satisfying.
"In the middle of the season, I didn't feel my best and my jumps weren't as good as they could have been," Kieffer-Wright said. "I knew I was capable of doing better, but I was fine with at least winning."
Kieffer-Wright started to do more than just win, though, when she broke the Rio Hondo League's 28-year-old girls' high jump record of 5-4 with a leap of 5-5 on May 4.
At the same league finals, Kieffer-Wright also ran the lead leg of the Tigers' 1,600-meter relay team, which set a new league record with a mark of 3 minutes 58.67 seconds.
"When it came to team competitions, I knew my role was to get as many points as possible," Kieffer-Wright said. "Individual wins were always a bonus."
Two weeks later, Kieffer-Wright enjoyed perhaps the finest day of her young career at the CIF-SS Division III championships at Mt. San Antonio College.
Not only did she split a divisional high jump title with Orange Lutheran's Taylor Saline in jumping 5-7, Kieffer-Wright also took part in the Tigers' third-place 1,600 relay squad that set a new school record of 3:53.48.
South Pasadena's final place was also important as the Tigers held a slim four-point lead over mighty Mater Dei in the Division III team standings heading into the final event and earned six points thanks to their finish, while runner-up Mater Dei tallied eight points.
A few moments after the race, the final score was read aloud: South Pasadena 62, Mater Dei 60.
"I was with my friend Anika Renken and she and I both freaked out," Kieffer-Wright said. "We were so happy, there was a little bit of tears. We both wanted that title bad."
The elation of winning dual titles was followed by relief at the CIF-SS Masters Meet at Cerritos College on May 25, which was run under a much cooler and considerably breezier atmosphere than previous races.
Subsequently, Kieffer-Wright struggled, needing two attempts to hit 5-5 and take one of the last qualifying spots to the state meet at Buchanan High from June 1-2.
"She's a natural competitor and she trusts in herself," South Pasadena jumps Coach Eugene Robinson said. "Her wanting to be better, her wanting to have high expectations and actually achieving them is what helped her during those rough competitions."
Kieffer-Wright's season ended June 2, when she went toe-to-toe with El Diamante's Katie Reeves, as the duo hit the opening mark of 5-3, then 5-5, 5-7 and finally 5-9.
While Reeves tapped out on three attempts at 5-10, Kieffer-Wright matched her career best on a second try at the height in winning the state crown.
"It was a dream to win a state championship because it was a far-off target last season," Kieffer-Wright said. "I practiced in the offseason and worked hard, but I didn't know I could get to this point my sophomore year until the indoor event in Fresno.
"My goal going forward is just to improve my mark and repeat, three-peat, I'd love that. I would love to maybe go to the world championships next year even, that would be something to strive for. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but so did winning a state championship a few months ago."