DADE CITY — The first award came in fifth grade.
Alfreda Steele blew through the field in a race against her Cox Elementary School classmates to earn a certificate, a soccer ball and the title of the fastest girl in school.
The medals and the ribbons and the newspaper clippings have piled up in a room in her aunt’s home since then, and this spring the Pasco freshman earned a new title.
Fastest girl in the county.
“It was just a natural talent,” Steele said.
Steele comes from an athletic family. Her older brother, Eddwon, played basketball, and her older sister, Chanellica, was a sprinter, too.
Steele was always fast, but she didn’t start running track until eighth grade, at her aunt’s request. Even then, she didn’t take it seriously. Steele battled rival JaKayla Jones — now a freshman at Zephyrhills — but rarely came out on top. When the season ended and high school began approaching, Steele’s work ethic kicked in.
“I just felt like I needed to work harder,” Steele said. “I didn’t give it my all in middle school. I thought I could do a lot better.”
Because Steele also played basketball, she couldn’t join the track team until practices had already begun. On her first workout in the long jump, as coaches tried to instill the fundamentals, she soared 16 feet — a distance that would have placed her in the top eight at last month’s Sunshine Athletic Conference meet.
“That’s when I kinda noticed that there was something that was there,” Pirates sprinters coach Norman Graham said.
Steele hasn’t disappointed since then.
In her first high school meet, Steele won the 100 meters and placed second in the long jump. A week later at Anclote, she won the 100 meters in a personal-best 12 seconds while taking first in the 200 meters and long jump, and anchoring the runnerup 4x100 relay team.
“Once in a blue moon,” Pasco track coach Barry Grayling said of her abilities.
Steele set a personal record in the long jump (17-2) to place fourth in a loaded field at USF, but her biggest statement so far came at last month’s conference meet.
Despite battling sore shins, Steele swept all three of her personal events — with two victories coming against her old middle-school rival.
“That was a good day for me,” Steele said. “I feel like I accomplished a lot.”
Her coaches think she has a lot more to accomplish.
Steele’s fundamentals are solid, but a faster burst out of the blocks could shave another tenth of a second off of her times. Graham said she’s already shown a will to improve, which has helped her cut 0.8 seconds off her top 100-meter time last year, heading into Thursday’s Class 2A, District 6 meet.
“That normally doesn’t happen,” Graham said.
If Steele keeps progressing, Graham said she can keep slicing off a tenth of a second each year and become a state title contender before she leaves Dade City.
Her fifth-grade certificate should expect more company at home.
Five others to watch
Spencer Guerette, Anclote: The senior is running in the footsteps of former Sharks’ distance star Argishti Gazari, who won the 3,200 meters last year. Guerette won SAC titles in the 800 and 1,600 this spring.
Janarion Grant, Pasco: The two-time state champ in the long jump has tough competition in Tampa Bay, with Lakewood’s Shaquem Griffin. But his conference-winning distance of 22-1.5 is almost 4 inches better than his best at that meet last spring.
Courtney Prengaman, Wesley Chapel: The defending Class 2A state champ and North Suncoast female track athlete of the year won the SAC title and figures to be a state contender again this spring.
Samantha Williams, Ridgewood: The junior thrower will be a key part of the Rams’ quest to repeat as Class 2A, District 8 champions. At the SAC meet, she placed third in the shot put and second in the discus.
Frank Villaizan, Nature Coast: The standout sprinter finished third in Hernando County in the 100, won the 200 and is a part of the Sharks’ strong 4x100 relay team.
When/where: 3:30 p.m. Friday, Calvary Christian
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Bayshore Christian, Calvary Christian, Carrollwood Day, Indian Rocks Christian, Seffner Christian, Tampa Bay Christian, Tampa Prep
When/where: 4 p.m. Thursday, Clearwater Central Catholic
Teams: Winter Haven All Saints’, Bishop McLaughlin, Clearwater Central Catholic, Fort Meade, Lakeland Christian, Lakeside Christian, Lakeland McKeel, Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, Lake Wales Vanguard
When/where: 1 p.m. Thursday, Tavares, 1
Teams: Eustis, Hernando, Hudson, Mount Dora, Nature Coast, Pasco, South Sumter, Tavares, Umatilla
When/where: 1 p.m. Thursday, Frostproof
Teams: Avon Park, Frostproof, Gulf, Lake Placid, Lake Wales, Mulberry, Ridgewood, Lakeland Tenoroc
When/where: noon Friday, Berkeley Prep
Teams: Anclote, Berkeley Prep, Fivay, Academy of the Holy Names, Jesuit, Middleton, Robinson, Tampa Catholic, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.