BEVERLY - Natalie Hart is no stranger to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
The Fort Frye junior qualified for the Division III state track meet each of the past two seasons and, after finishing fourth in the 300 meter hurdles at last week's regional meet, is headed there again Friday.
However, Hart hasn't been able to earn All-Ohio honors at the state meet yet and she'd like to change that this weekend.
"This is my year," she said. "The third time's the charm."
Hart ran the 300 hurdles in 46.57 seconds at the regional finals to claim fourth place and a spot at the state meet. Initially, though, she was unsure where she had placed as the top five finishers were all within half a second of each other.
"We were all super close," Hart said. "I was sixth around the turn and thought "Oh my gosh, I have to get top four.' At first I didn't think I made it, but I told them my name and they gave me my medal and I was like 'Yes!'"
That 46.57 mark is the Fort Frye school record. It's one of several records Hart holds, though she may have to break it again to finish eighth or better at state. Coming in, six runners clocked faster than 46 seconds at their regional meets while the other 10 are anywhere from 46.05 to 46.57.
"I know for sure if I can break 46, I will make the podium," Hart said.
Hart is Fort Frye's only representative at the state meet. Head coach Bobbi Webb is confident Hart will make the community proud.
"She's a very versatile athlete and a very hard worker," Webb said. "She's been working since December with the goal of making it to state.
"If anyone has to represent Fort Frye, she's a good one to do it."
Hart is actually in her first year as a hurdler, but it didn't take her long to get accustomed to the role. She was the runner-up in the 300 hurdles at the Pioneer Valley Conference Championship meet and then won the D3 East District title with a time of 47.40. And she's only getting better.
"She has improved by over a second and a half in a two-week span," Webb said. "She's peaking at the right time, which is what you want to see as a coach."
"I've put countless hours into hurdling this year," Hart said. "I've been doing drills, working on my technique, doing foot speed drills.
"I'm very confident in myself."
Hart knows from experience that the state meet is a whole new ballgame when it comes to the competition and the atmosphere. She may be the only Cadet competing at the meet, but she'll be doing so in front of a large support system.
"A bunch of my classmates are going to watch me run," Hart said. "It puts a lot of pressure on me to represent Fort Frye, but it also gets me pumped."
Hart will be in action at around 11:20 a.m. Friday when the 300 hurdles preliminaries are scheduled to begin. The top two finishers in each heat, plus the next five best times, advance to the finals. The finals are scheduled for 10:40 a.m. Saturday.
"Her key is gonna be to get a good start out of the blocks and sprint hard from hurdle to hurdle," Webb said. "She has to attack the hurdles."
Hart said her coaches have played a crucial role in her getting to this point, adding "They've really pushed me and been behind me from the start. They didn't let me slack off ever, no matter how much I wanted to."