Reaching the Division II regional meet in girls track and field always had been easy for Kaela Hatfield.

Reaching the Division II regional meet in girls track and field always had been easy for Kaela Hatfield.

The Northridge High School senior high jumper reached the regional as a freshman and sophomore, but things did not fall into place last season. Hatfield tied for ninth at district with an effort of 4 feet, 8 inches. That was three inches short of the distance needed for the fourth and final regional-qualifying spot.

Hatfield learned from the setback and vowed to return to the regional in her final season with the Vikings.

"Last year when I didn't make it to regional, it kind of made me realize that everyone out there was working as hard as I was to get better," Hatfield said. "That made me want to work harder this year."

Hatfield played volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter, but that didn't stop her from looking forward to track.

"I started lifting in the winter after basketball (practice) in late December to get ready for track," she said. "I wanted to be ready for when the season began."

Girls track coach Rebecca Brechbill wasn't surprised by Hatfield's offseason drive.

"I would say her sheer determination is Kaela's strongest asset," Brechbill said. "She is doing really well and having a great season so far. She has been my main high jumper for four years and has worked to get where she is."

On April 18 at the Lakewood Relays, Hatfield cleared a career-best 5-0 in the high jump. Brechbill said that had been a major obstacle for Hatfield.

"Kaela cleared 5-foot at Lakewood, which has been something she has never been able to do in a meet," Brechbill said.

"She would be able to do it in practice sometimes but not in a meet. It must have been a mental block for her or something. Now that she has done it, she knows she can do it in a meet."

"Getting 5-foot at Lakewood was quite an accomplishment for me," Hatfield said. "I think a lot of it is mental and we sometimes tend to psych ourselves out."

But Brechbill said Hatfield doesn't show any fear while competing.

"You can't be afraid and be a high jumper," Brechbill said. "When you are back taking your approach, the height of bar can be intimidating, but that has never been something to bother her."

Hatfield, however, said her performance in the high jump remains a work in progress.

"I need to work on the continuity of jumping a good height," Hatfield said. "Just like this (past) week at Lakewood I went 5-foot and I only went (4-8) (on April 20 at home)."

"Right now, I think Kaela needs to focus on her approach," Brechbill said. "She still sometimes tries to sneak in a stutter step, but that really breaks up momentum of the approach to the bar. We try not to give her too much to focus on other than going out and jumping."

Hatfield also runs on three relays - the 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. She likes the change of pace that the relays provide during a meet.

"They are fast-paced and then you have your teammates there with you," she said. "You warm up together and you talk yourselves up and get ready to run and just go out there and do it. It's a lot of fun."

More fun might be in store for Hatfield as Brechbill ponders whether to place her in some open races.

"Kaela has been running strong and her times are faster than some of the other people we have out there," Brechbill said. "I might do that at some of the invitationals coming up and probably at the MBC meet," Brechbill said. "The MBC will be May 10 at Fredericktown on a Tuesday and will only be one day this year. I think that will be good for everyone."

As a senior, Hatfield has responded to her role as a leader.

"I try to support (the younger athletes) and push the kids to be the best they can be because the four years have gone by so quickly," she said. "There is a girl on my team, a freshman, Haley Menix, who went 4-10 at the Lakewood meet and that's her highest. We work together and push each other."

As her high school career winds down, Hatfield wants to continue to have fun with her teammates as long as she possibly can.

"It probably won't hit me until August when I should be back here with my friends," she said. "But the most important thing is to have fun. (April 20) was a terrible day for track. It's muddy and freezing, but I'm still having fun."