Taryn Stern and her mother joke that the reason Taryn doesn't do well in a 3,200-meter run is because she doesn't have the attention span to do anything eight times in a row. That's the number of laps it takes to complete the event.
Stern doesn't have any trouble with completing half that number, though. Not only is four the number of laps in the 1,600-meter run, one of her best events, but it's also the number of events she recently won at the South Piedmont Conference track and field meet.
Her coach, Chris Balga, said he believed the junior to be the first Hickory Ridge athlete to accomplish the feat in the school's three years. The mark helped the Ragin' Bulls to a second-place finish in the girls' conference meet standings - a program best - at the May 4-5 meet at Mount Pleasant.
Against stiffer competition at the 3A Midwest regional at East Rowan May 15, Stern captured the 800-meter title, advancing to the state meet at N.C. A&T May 21.
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Tougher competition was what made the biggest impression on Stern when she arrived at Hickory Ridge three years ago. Previously, she attended Queen's Grant Community School in Mint Hill through middle school and was a member of the cross country team for three years.
Stern remembers finishing in first or second place in most of her races. Her mother, Teresa, was then an assistant coach on the team and still pushes her daughter to excel in her running.
After an average cross country season as a freshman at Hickory Ridge, Stern competed in the 3,200 meters and 1,600 meters in the outdoor track and field season. An experiment in running the 3,200 meters lasted just one season and by her sophomore year, Stern picked up the 800 meters instead.
Stern was getting used to high school competition by the cross country season of her sophomore year. Running behind a teammate who was a year older, Stern found a mentor in Teal McLean.
Stern garnered all-conference status as a tenth-grader and it helped her build momentum going into the track and field season. McLean specialized in the longer 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs that allowed Stern to take ownership of the 800 meters.
"It was kind of like my time to shine," said Stern. "I took it as my own individual race."
Having run a leg of Hickory Ridge's regional qualifying 3,200-meter relay team, Stern also qualified on her own in the 800 meters. Her poor performance in the regional race was credited to some confusion about whether she would be disqualified because of some conflicting branding in her uniform.
Another all-conference season in cross country in 2009 preceded her first attempt at indoor track and field. At the 1A/2A/3A state meet in February, Stern placed third in the 1,600 meters, finishing 11 spots ahead of McLean who had transferred to Fayetteville Westover because of a family move.
Trial-by-error led Balga to add the 1,600-meter relay to Stern's schedule. The relay team had three established runners but Stern's split time (59 seconds) was too good to pass up.
Running with Camari Gilbert, Nora Shafer and Candra Mathis, the 1,600-meter relay became one of the four events Stern won at the South Piedmont Conference meet. Her other team, including Haley Craig, Sarah Heidenfeldt and Lainey Foley, won the 3,200-meter relay.
On her own, Stern won the 800- and 1,600-meters.
Mathis nearly matched Stern's four overall titles, winning two individual events - the long jump and triple jump - to add to her 1,600-meter relay title. Mathis also was regional champ in the long jump and triple jump.