When eighth-grader Kala Stepter dominated at a middle school track meet in 2005, her mom, former Olympic hurdler LaTanya Sheffield, was excited about the high school career that lay ahead.
“I have done my thing, and now it is time for a changing of the guard,” Sheffield told the Tucson Citizen in 2005. “This is her time now.”
Stepter hasn’t quit shining; she’s one of Arizona’s elite high school hurdlers. With less than a month to go in her high school career, the record-setting Stepter has set her sights squarely on winning next month’s Class 4A Division I 300 hurdles title.
After she set the 4A state record in the event at last week’s Mario Castro Invitational in a blistering 43.68 seconds, who would doubt she can achieve the goal? She snapped a 17-year mark set in 1992 by Tolleson’s Adra Hysong (44.21).
“I was just as surprised as anyone,” Stepter said of her record. “It was announced as I was walking away after receiving my medal. I celebrated by running the 4×400 (-meter relay race).”
As grateful as she is for the record, she wants another.
The state’s all-classes record of 42.67 seconds set in 1985 by Scottsdale Chaparral’s Christy Nore is the next hurdle Stepter hopes to clear as her prolific high school career winds down.
“I’ll do anything to break the record,” she said.
A record-setting time would likely assure her of a 4A-I state championship medal in the event, something that has eluded her.
As a freshman, Stepter finished third at the 4A-I state championship meet, followed by second-place finishes as a sophomore and a junior.
“I’ve missed it three years in a row and it’s all been a battle,” she said. “I’m going for first; this is the way you want to go out.”
CDO head track coach Jim Truitt, who coached at the school from 1981-86 and again since 2003, said Stepter is “the greatest female hurdler I’ve ever seen.”
“She’s the epitome of everything you hope for,” Truitt said. “She’s a talented athlete with great work ethic and character to back it up.”
Her mom has helped coach her every step of the way.
Sheffield burst onto the track scene in 1985 by setting an American record, and winning an NCAA championship, in the 400-meter hurdles in 54.66. She competed in the 1988 Olympics and remained one of the country’s premiere hurdlers before retirement in 2000.
Sheffield is a sprint coach at CDO.
“A lot of people think with your mom, she’ll go easy on you. She constantly works us,” Stepter said, referring also to her younger sister and fellow CDO track star Jaide, a freshman.
“I love her, but she is a tough coach.”
Stepter said her emergence in hurdles was also due to CDO assistant coach Michelle Gerard.
“I can say I like the balance of my coaches,” Stepter said.
“Mom is tough and Michelle Gerard, my hurdles coach, is more laid back.”
After her high school career ends – the 4A state meet is May 16 at Mesa Community College – Stepter will take her 4.2 grade point average to Stanford, where she will continue her track career.
“Stanford will be good to nurture me both academically and athletically,” Stepter said.
Sheffield said she knows it will be a bittersweet moment when Stepter heads off to college, but Sheffield is excited about the opportunities ahead.
“It has been very exciting to watch a young athlete grow up to be athletically inclined,” Sheffield said. “The cherry on top is she belongs to me and my husband (Keith).
“That kind of feeling is like an amazing banana split.
“I feel confident we have instilled the mechanism to survive in her. There is a place in the world for her.”
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.
AMONG THE BEST
Canyon del Oro senior Kala Stepter has the fastest time in the 300-meter hurdles this season in Arizona.
Kala Stepter, CDO 43.68
Kathy Fisher, Sahuaro 44.63
Lindsey Honea, Marana 44.69
Breanna Leslie, V. Christian 45.7
(source: AIA record book)
5A – Christy Nore (1985), 42.67
4A – Kala Stepter (2009), 43.68
3A – Nicole Nevitt (2004), 44.44
2A – Jamie Cluff (2002), 43.45
1A – Martha Hernandez (1986), 47.32