Nia Dorner is chasing history, cruising down the backstretch of a spectacular high school career with a smooth, effortless stride. Destination: finish line.
The Cordova High School senior sprinter said she craves a chance to stand alone atop the victory stand in Clovis on Saturday night wearing a gold medal.
In the 94-year history of the CIF State Track and Field Championships, the Sac-Joaquin Section, which now has 197 schools under its umbrella, has yet to produce a girls sprint champion.
What's more, no girl from the greater Sacramento area has won a state title in the 100, 200, 400, 1,600, 3,200, the two hurdles races or two relays. Sacramento runners through the decades have run into a head wind of sorts, turned away by the flood of standouts from Southern California.
Now here comes Dorner out of the blocks. With powerful legs to match her determination, Dorner has the state's leading 400 time, 54.05 seconds. Her lifetime best of 53.78 was set last summer in an AAU meet in Houston. Dorner's best in the 200 this season of 23.96 is fastest in Northern California and tied for fifth best in the state.
Dorner placed second in the state 400 last season at 55.28 while attending Rosemont. She vows to obliterate that time.
"I want to win state," Dorner said. "Really bad."
"She's got a legitimate shot," said Dorner's personal sprint coach, David Lawrence. "This is big. She not only represents Cordova but the entire section. She's reached some of her goals: to be a good student, to get a scholarship (to Texas), to get this far. One more to go."
Dorner's achievements in track have come through loud and clear. Otherwise, she is shy and reserved, allowing a slight smile when talking about her dreams of becoming a nurse or studying medicine. She giggles when asked if she can dust her coach in a sprint - with or without blocks.
"She's very intense when she trains and competes," Lawrence said. "Two completely different people."
As for that race with his star?
"I'll challenge her anytime after the state meet, but it has to be in the 3,200," Lawrence said, Dorner standing nearby with raised eyebrows. "I know after 400 meters, I've got her."
Lawrence said he can't hide his anxiety when Dorner races. He has trained her since she was in the sixth grade, fine-tuning her mechanics like a race car.
"I'm a nervous wreck," Lawrence said. "I can't sleep the night before big races. You get to know someone after working with them so long, they grow on you, and you want them to do well."
Dorner is a perfectionist, pleased with her success this season but hardly content. With all A's and one B on her senior report card, Dorner stressed about not getting a 4.0.
"I'm really hard on myself," said Dorner, whose classmates will graduate at the same time she chases gold in Clovis. "I'm never satisfied."
Dorner has a résumé to be proud of. She is a four-time 400 Masters champion and a two-time Masters 200 winner, the best of the best in the section. Her 23.96 blew away the 200 field at last week's Masters and tied the fourth fastest in area history. Sheldon's Deonna Lawrence, no relation to coach Lawrence, has the area's fastest 200 of 23.76 in 2004, followed by Pam Qualls of Burbank (23.88 in 1984), Andra Harris of Monterey Trail (23.95 in 2007) and Monica Taylor of Grant (23.96 in 1983).
Dorner's 53.78 in the 400 is second best all-time locally to Lawrence's 52.77 in 2003. Dorner's 53.79 from last year is third fastest, and her 54.05 this spring is fourth best.
Deonna Lawrence was a four-time section champ in the 400, placing second in the state meet as a senior. She was a four-time NCAA champion and a 10-time All-American at LSU. Lawrence met Dorner in Houston last summer, and they became fast friends.
"Deonna is like a big track sister to Nia," coach Lawrence said. "Deonna is fully aware of what's going on this week."
And she's rooting for her kid sister, as is Sacramento's track fraternity.
"She's a track kid, and she's a great one," Florin assistant coach Bill Carr said. "She's got better than a real shot to win the 400. We're all pulling for her."