With every obstacle cleared Saturday morning, Manitou Springs sophomore Taylor Finn gained more and more speed before bursting off her right foot and blowing away the rest of the pack in 15.84 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles at the El Paso Small School Championships.
In just her second event back after being diagnosed with a right foot stress fracture during spring break, Finn showed no ill signs of missing a month of competition and eclipsed the 16-second mark with relative ease during a windy day at the Grace Center.
The 3A state title contender started slowly off the block, before gaining confidence every time she planted on her once injured foot Saturday.
"I started really slow, I wasn't the first one out of my blocks, but I feel like once I start going I just go and I try to not let anyone get me," Finn said.
Finn also ran in the 4x100 relay and 300 hurdles and said that her foot was feeling a little "uncomfortable."
The Mustangs won the team championship with 107 points. Colorado Springs Christian School and Salida split second place with 91 points.
Finn is a leading favorite to win the 3A state title in the 100 hurdles this year after finishing third in 2013 behind then-seniors Alexa Chacon (The Classical Academy) and Gabby Pajak (Pagosa Springs) in 15.81 seconds.
"Well, I have always had that target on my back from the beginning of the season," Finn said. "I mean it's good to have that pressure, but sometimes I put a lot of pressure on myself and it isn't good. I would get upset with times like 15.8 and I would be down about it."
According to Finn, her injury was a result of overuse - she ran summer and winter track and is also a competitive telemark skier.
Finn was happy with her performance after posting a 16.12 at the Coronado Cougar Classic on Friday.
"Oh yeah, pretty happy," she said. "I missed a month of doing really nothing."
She also was pleased with her sunscreen after getting sunburnt so badly on Friday that her eyes and lips were all puffy Saturday morning.
Sometimes, just returning to the track is the biggest thing, believes coach Phil Rich.
"She got a race under her belt and that's the hardest thing," Rich said. "I was surprised she did that well in some ways. You just have to get a race under you and you have to relax."
However, Finn's month off may actually be a benefit to her long-term success. During the month away from running, Finn focused a lot of her energy working on her core strength by cycling and swimming, something that was apparent by her concrete performance covering the hurdles.
"I feel a lot stronger than I did last year," Finn said. "I am not floating as much over the hurdles."
Rich believes Finn's increasingly improving hurdling technique may make her an even stronger contender throughout her high school career in the 300 hurdles, which she won Saturday in 49.31 and placed sixth in last year at state (48.29).
"That is an event she is built for," said the 30-plus year coach. "She is really strong, but it is just a conditioning thing. She is going to get there."
For now, Finn - an extreme competitor - is happy to have returned.
"I am just happy I am back and running again," she concluded. "This is my sport. I love this sport. It brings a lot of joy to my life and just being back is an amazing feeling."