Taryn Garza has learned not to look ahead, so the Modesto Christian senior's focus was on the finish line of the 400 meters at the Arcadia Invitational and nothing else.
Garza has spent the last two springs preparing for the CIF State Track Meet, but a fourth-place finish as a sophomore and an injury last year ended her bids prematurely.
She's ready for another run this season, though, and Garza's early season times in the 400 got her an invitation to the prestigious track meet.
She made good on the opportunity, winning the open division in a personal best of 56.25 seconds in the afternoon. It got her a spot in the even-ing's seeded race, against many of California's fastest runners.
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Running her second 400 in six hours, this time in front of 9,000 spectators and television cameras, Garza found a bit of energy in the final 50 meters to finish third in 56.29.
She was seven-hundredths of a second behind the second-place finisher, and Iesha Hardimen from Wilcox of Santa Clara won handily in 55.24.
Garza's time is ranked first in the Sac-Joaquin Section as the postseason approaches. The section's previous leader in the 400, Jazmin Harper of Oakmont, also ran in the evening race and was sixth.
"Based on Taryn's early season performances, she was invited to (the) afternoon section," coach Mary Shea said. "The top two people from the (afternoon) are invited to the evening elite sections."
The Arcadia meet featured nearly 3,800 athletes from 27 states and Canada, Shae said.
Garza ran the evening race in lane 9 -- a difficult task because the staggered start prevented her from seeing other runners until they caught up -- and she was in last place with 100 meters remaining.
"(We) explained that she had to go out hard, expect to see everyone catch up at 200 meters, then bring it home," She said. "Taryn calmly collected herself and started accelerating in the last 50."
Garza returns to the track Friday at Modesto Junior College to run in the Stanislaus County Championships. The field events begin at 4 p.m. and racing will start at 6.