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For approximately 24 hours, no one was faster.

Santa Rosa High track superstar Kirsten Carter ran the fastest 300-meter hurdle time in the nation Friday night in cold and windy conditions at the Santa Rosa Twilight Invitational meet at Santa Rosa Junior College. When she crossed the line, the clock read 42.68 — no high school girl in the country had done it faster this season.

“I almost jumped out of my chair,” Panthers co-coach Doug Courtemarche said. “This time of year, running that fast is really unusual. That is a state finalist time. She really attacked it.”

Her mark held … until Saturday afternoon. At the elite 78th Annual Nike Chandler Rotary Invitational meet in Arizona, Breanna Bernard-Joseph of Eleanor Roosevelt High in Eastvale, California, and Jai Gruenwald from Chandler High in Arizona dueled to a 1-2 finish in 42.46 and 42.62, respectively, dropping Carter down to third best in the nation for the year.

“I saw that and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” Carter said. “At the same time, I knew that would happen because it’s still the beginning of the season.”

She was smiling when she said it, like she knows she can and will get faster. For the past three-plus years at Santa Rosa High, she has proven she can do just about anything on the track that she sets her mind and body to.

She already owns the fastest 100-meter time in Redwood Empire history with a fully automated, wind-legal 11.87 time she ran last season. She’s also the fastest ever in the 200 meters with a fully automated, wind-legal 24.35 she also posted in 2017. Her 54.24 in the 400-meter back in 2015 is the fastest ever for the Empire and now she owns the record in the 300-meter hurdles — besting a 31-year-old record.

For kicks, she’s third on the all-time long jump list at 18 feet, 11 inches in 2015 and the 25th-best discus thrower ever around here, with a heave of 121 feet, 9 inches in 2017.

On Friday, when she set the record for the 300-meter hurdles, she also won the 100-meter dash in 12.12, ran the third leg in the Panthers’ winning 4x400 meter relay team and won the shot put with the best toss in the Empire so far this season: 33 feet, 0.5 inch.

“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime talent, really,” said Panthers co-coach Carrie Joseph.

Look no further for proof of that than the fact that coaches describe Carter’s experience with hurdles as something she’s “dabbling” in. She’s competed in the event just a handful of times in her illustrious career, but Friday night might have been the lure.

“When I was doing it, I was like ‘Oh, this feels good,’ but I didn’t think it was that fast,” she said.

Even her record-breaking effort Friday night wasn’t perfect. There is room for Carter to improve.

Her start was described as phenomenal, coming as it was about 20 minutes after she won the 100-meter dash.

“She was like a bullet. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It was clear she was not messing around,” Joseph said. “She was so fast over the first hurdle, I have never seen anything like it. She almost overflew it, she had to catch herself.”

Maybe it was inexperience with the event or the cold and windy conditions, but the turn looked less sharp than Carter’s start, according to her coaches.

Courtemarche described it as her going “ragged.” Darin Carter, Kirsten’s dad and the Panthers’ sprint coach, pointed to the turn where the third and fourth hurdles are stationed.

“She got a little bit tired and weird over there,” he said.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that even with the weird and ragged section of her race, she still torched the track. And she did it without anyone of comparable speed near her to press the pace up an extra notch.

Clean up her form on the curve, work on the home-stretch finish, and she can lop off real time, Darin Carter said.

“I’m looking at the numbers. She should run 41-something by the time she gets down to the big meets,” he said.

The big meets are coming. Fast.

Carter will run the 400-meter hurdles Friday and the 100-meter dash Saturday at the Stanford Invitational. At the massive Arcadia Invitational April 6-7, Carter will run the 400-meter leg of the sprint medley Friday and the 100-meter dash and 300-meter hurdles Saturday.

The most realistic question with Carter is not whether or not she’ll make the CIF state track and field meet June 1-2 in Clovis, but which event she’ll choose to focus on.

For context, the next-fastest 300-meter hurdle time in the North Coast Section is Ariana Gregg of Acalanes High School, with 45.22.

Carter, who stands 6 feet tall, will likely be a hurdler when she competes for UC Davis next season, but the 400 meters seems to be a good fit, too.

“The 400 meters, that is really where she can be dangerous,” Darin Carter said. There was a pause. Then an added comment. Maybe the hurdles are her thing, too?

“She’s so tall, so flexible, coordinated,” he said. “She’s got body control.”

Carter said she isn’t sure. While the hurdles success has whetted her appetite for more, it’s also muddied the waters a bit.

“In the 300 hurdles I’m hoping to stay in that top five range,” she said of national rankings. “And maybe go to state in it.”

She came into her final prep season eyeing the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races as her ride into the postseason. But then that hurdle result came down.

So now she’s thinking she’ll drop the 200 meters altogether and decide as the season wears on whether to pair the 300 hurdles with the 100- or 400-meter race.

“This year I’m doing whatever event I can feel happiest and most confident in,” she said. “Now, it’s even more fun because I’m not just enjoying it, but I’m actually being successful in it.”

Fun plus success is a pretty good formula for a senior season.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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