Stephanie Stavrianoudakis enjoys celebrating a victory as much as anyone, which is one reason she decided to triple jump when she joined the Panther Track Club in 2003.
"My mom, a long jumper in high school, felt it would be good for me to run track," the Modesto High senior said. "I'm sure she was hoping I'd do the long jump, but I decided to triple jump because so few kids were doing that. Fewer kids, I figured I could win."
Victories came easily, with Stavrianoudakis outjumping her classmates at Paradise Elementary School during after-school meets and beating rivals at the Panthers' meets.
"When I got to high school, it was more difficult," Stavrianoudakis noted. "Girls were stronger, faster. Competing got to be a serious challenge."
Rather than look for an easier event, Stavrianoudakis responded by exerting more effort in the triple jump pit as well as in the weight room.
As her performances began to improve, it was motivation for Stavrianoudakis to make the same commitment to the triple jump that she was exhibiting in the classroom.
"I'm in the (International Baccalaureate) program, a demanding academic schedule, so time is very valuable," she said. "Something had to give ... a social life, school, track ... it would be great to have it all, but that wouldn't work."
So Stavrianoudakis put her social schedule on hold, skipping more dates and parties so she could jump and study.
The payoff for that decision has arrived: She received her diploma during Thursday's ceremony, graduating with a near-4.0 GPA, and tonight she jumps in the CIF State Meet — the nation's top high school track and field meet.
"It's been a big week for me and my family, with graduation and the state meet," she said. "A bunch of them are going to Clovis to see me jump."
Her mother, Teresa, will be there. So will her sister, Antonia, a student at University of the Pacific, and her brother, Strat, a freshman at Modesto.
Stavrianoudakis will stride down the runway at Buchanan High at 3:30 3 p.m. — the No. 15 seed after going a personal record of 37 feet, 5 inches, to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet last week.
She will take three jumps in the trials and, if she is among the top nine, will return Saturday for three more jumps.
It might be the last time she jumps in a competitive meet.
Stavrianoudakis is going to Sacramento State in the fall, where she will major in civil engineering or architecture. She could try to walk-on with the Hornets' track team, but her academics are a priority.
"That's something we work on with all our kids," Modesto coach Arlen Peters said. "I enjoy track and I'm glad the kids do, too, but we stress the priority of a good education."
Stavrianoudakis' IB schedule was developed to prepare her for college — and beyond.
"One of my favorite classes was 'Theory of Knowledge,' which asks that you question everything in life," she said. "We take a lot for granted because we see it. If you start to question what you see, you might see there's more to it."
She hopes to exploit the science, math and other skills she acquired during her IB program later in life, as well.
"I'd like to design buildings or systems that improve the environment or make life better for people," she said. "It might be something that conserves water or fuel, or replenishes a natural resource.
"I'm also interested in art, so I see that coming into play, too. There's so much I want to do. I'm excited to get started."
The IB program intends to prepare students for college with rigorous work in courses ranging from math to foreign language to philosophy.
"It's been a lot of work, but I don't feel the same pressure I do as when I'm the top seed at a track meet," she said. "Now that's pressure! Everyone assumes you'll win, but it's not that easy when everyone else out there wants to beat you."
Stavrianoudakis will be the outsider trying to gain entry to the inner circle this week.
Alitta Boyd of Moreau Catholic-Hayward has a state-best 41-¾ and is the top seed, while five other girls have gone beyond 39 feet. It's significant because the top six finishers at state bring home medals.
"The goal is to PR and see what happens," said Stavrianoudakis, a 35-foot jumper as a junior. "I prepared more for this season that I had before. I was in the weight room much more, running more.
"I knew it was my final shot at state, so I put a lot of other things aside to focus on this."