TAMPA — Like many on track and field's sprawling landscape, Steinbrenner junior Alexis Wright started out subsisting on raw talent. Then a three-sport athlete, she possessed hops, a hurdler's frame and heaps of coachability.
She just lacked one nuance: know-how.
"I feel a lot more comfortable because last year it was like, 'Oh, this is something natural and it's kind of easy,' " Wright said of her hurdling acumen. "But this year I actually know what I'm doing."
Consider what Wright achieved last spring with nary a clue, and it's easy to project her making numerous trips to the medal stand at the upcoming state meet.
A 2010 Class 2A state qualifier in three events and a medalist in one (triple jump), Wright appears poised to collect neckwear in triplicate this time around. A slender 5-foot-8 honors student, her talent is complemented by technique, form accompanies her fleetness.
"In triple jump, I have to make sure I elongate my step phase and finish tall, looking up," she said. "(In hurdles) it was just like, 'Oh, I have to jump a hurdle.' But this year it's like, 'No, I have to critique this for me to be where I want to be.' "
There was little of which to be critical last week. At the District 9 meet at Berkeley Prep, Wright won three individual events (100 and 300 hurdles, triple jump) and ran a leg on the winning 4x400 team — while battling congestion.
She enters today's Region 3 meet in Titusville as the top seed in both hurdles events.
"This year she kind of came back knowing she was a hurdler," Warriors girls coach Ladd Baldwin said. "Last year we were trying to make her a hurdler."
A track athlete since the sixth grade at Carrollwood's Ben Hill Middle School, Wright entered Baldwin's conscience two years ago, when the veteran coach still was at Gaither. He noticed her vertical proficiency on the volleyball court, and the brace on her left knee.
Wright says the knee is "missing" a little cartilage. Fearing the stress that hurdling might render on the knee, Baldwin tried to teach her a couple of jumps and put her in the 400 meters. That year, she served as a freshman anchor on the Cowboys' state-qualifying 4x400 relay team.
When Steinbrenner opened the following fall, coach and prodigy both landed at the Lutz school. When Wright — also a Warriors point guard — finished with basketball season, Baldwin experimented with her at hurdles while monitoring her knee.
Turned out, she was a "natural," he said.
"Once I got into high school it was like, 'Okay, I'm a 400 runner,' " recalled Wright, the youngest of five siblings by eight years.
"But then my sophomore year it was like, 'There's this thing called hurdles and I'm amazing at it.' I finally realized what I wanted to do my sophomore year with triple, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles."
A year later, Wright owns Steinbrenner records in five events, a feat hardly worth mentioning considering the school's age. But match those records with the ones Baldwin kept in his 12 years at Gaither, and Wright still would own the best marks in the 100 hurdles (15.10 seconds) and 300 hurdles (45.53) and is about 8 inches shy in the triple jump. Her best: 36 feet, 5 inches.
With more refinement will come even more records, Baldwin suggests.
"What makes her so special is, when you're talking about an athlete of the year in track and field you say, well, this girl's a great sprinter, or a great jumper, or a great pole vaulter. But that's all she does," Baldwin said.
"But can you hurdle, and can you jump, and can you run a relay? That's what sets her apart."