Though she had no direct experience in the art of shot putting, Melanie Samvalian didn't let it deter her from learning.
Coaxed into giving it a try two years ago, Samvalian stepped into the throwing circle for the first time and developed an immediate appreciation. It turned out Samvalian, a member of the Crescenta Valley High girls' track and field team, made the right choice.
"I took the ball for the first time and threw it," Samvalian said. "I didn't even know the fundamentals of it, but I learned real quick about how you have to throw it far.
"I knew it would be for me."
Samvalian evolved into one of the top shot putters in the area and Southern California during the past two seasons. She turned in some masterful feats, starting by winning a pair of Pacific League championships and capped by a steady fourth-place finish in the CIF Southern Section Division I final at Cerritos College in May.
Samvalian more than held her own. Whether during a league meet, an invitation or at a CIF final, Samvalian proved she could rise to any challenge presented to her.
"I had a lot of confidence in myself that I could do well," said Samvalian, who put an exclamation point on her senior season with a personal-best and school-record mark of 38 feet 6 inches at the CIF Division I final on May 22 and is the 2010 All-Area Girls' 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. "I wanted to get past league and I knew that I had to work extra hard at the big meets and CIF and prove to people that I could get the job done.
"It's not an easy event because you have to have quickness and you have to get the technique down."
Samvalian, who earlier this year helped the school's girls' varsity team advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001, spent extra time with Crescenta Valley track and field Coach Mark Evans and his assistants further comprehending the basics.
The additional time spent inside the circle paid major dividends. Samvalian won the league title in the shot put last season with a mark of 32-1 3/4 and maintained her grip on the crown with a mark of 37-10 1/2 at this season's league final on May 7 at Glendale High's Moyse Field.
"I always wanted to get better," Samvalian said. "It took a lot of practice with the coaches, and, if it weren't for them, I wouldn't have been able to get where I'm at."
Samvalian, who started at center for the basketball team and helped the Falcons finish 24-6 and 12-2 in league for second place, made the end of her high school career in track and field count. After winning the league crown and finishing second in the discus, Samvalian posted a mark of 38-3 1/2 at the Division I prelims at Trabuco Hills High in Mission Viejo.
With each passing meet, Samvalian spotted marked improvement.
"With winning league, it was kind of a piece of cake," Samvalian said. "Once I got to CIF, I knew that I would be competing against a bunch of great throwers.
"I pulled through [the prelims] and I noticed that the girls at the finals were so much bigger than me. I felt like I was underestimated a bit. I had to keep my confidence and get into a rhythm because you have to make your best throw every time. It's all mental."
Lima Lefiti of La Sierra posted a mark of 45-1 to win the Division I crown.
Evans said Samvalian had the stamina and makeup to become a successful shot putter.
"I thought she had the talent there to be a quality shot putter," Evans said. "Coming into this year, we knew that she had the ability to throw a lot better compared to last year.
"In basketball, she's quick and agile and you could see how well she moved going up and down the court. Things like that can play well into shot putting.
"She's already got the coordination and athletic ability. Once she got down the technique with the shot put, things just came together and she improved with each meet. To get to the Division I final and place fourth is a great accomplishment because it's a loaded event with awesome athletes."
Jessica Beerman, a Crescenta Valley sprinter, said Samvalian never lost her concentration after she stepped into the circle.
"I shot put with her in the beginning of the season and I could see that she was always very focused," said Beerman, who won league crowns in the 100- and 200-meter races. "She worked real hard with the coaches on the things that she might have had problems with.
"She had goals and she proved she could reach them."
Those goals might not have seemed like a reality two seasons ago. Now, they are.