The finals of the state girls indoor 55-meter dash last week on Staten Island were so close they reverted to a horse race-like “photo finish” picture to determine the ultimate winner, Schalmont High School senior Mia D'Ambrosio, by a theoretical couple of thousandths of a second over Lockport junior Kahniya James.
That's because the digital equipment available at the NYSPHSAA Indoor Track and Field Championship Meet at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex only went as far as the hundredths column and both finalists had “officially” sprinted home in identical times of 6.95 seconds.
For James, the personal-best time and both Niagara Frontier League and Section VI record-setting performance was a promise kept moment, as she vowed to top the seven-second mark for the first time just days before after capturing her second straight VI indoor title days earlier in a previous career-best :07.02.
“My exact thought was, ‘I want it and I'm gonna get it,’” said James, the artistic daughter of Tunisia Price and Eddie James. “When the gun went off (to start the race), that was my whole mindset. Basically we were tied.“
James finished the season — the national championships this weekend were claimed by coronavirus — with not only the national prestige of having topped seven seconds, but also the fourth fastest time in the 55m dash in the entire nation by a high school athlete (and the single fastest indoor time run by any junior sprinter in any high school anywhere in the United States this past winter).
Lions head coach Josh Jablonski, who teaches at Emmet Belknap, said he first met Kahniya as a young, but remarkably fast student.
“I had her as a fifth grade student. We do our May, end-of-the-year track and field meet and even as a fifth grader, she ran one of the fastest times I've still ever seen in the 40 yard dash and the 100 dash,” Jablonski said.
“She still has a lot of potential left and I like that she's finally starting to buy into the weight room. It's up to her how much faster she wants to go. She's had her best season, but as far as training, she's still got a lot to go.“
James says throughout the week preceding a big meet, she trains “hard, but not too hard,” explaining that she does not want her body to be sore on meet day.
“There's a lot of mindset preparation there. I try to treat a finals race like any another race, so that I'm not too nervous or over excited,” James said. “Going into the race itself, I just try to relax my mind and body in order to go out and put up a good time.”
According to the state meet schedule, the 55-meter dash is the first event on the day's long list of “track” and “field” events, meaning James and other sprint finalists had to be ready to fly by 9 a.m.
“It's different, yes, starting so early, but it helps that throughout the season we did have a 6 o'clock bus service, so I was used to being up that early,” James said.
“We were up at 6:30 in the morning the day of the finals. You wanna make sure you get a good night's rest and eat a good breakfast — I usually don't eat anything but fruit, but that morning I wanted to eat light — I had a banana and some eggs, that's all.”
About 40 girls in all competed in the 55m trials. trials then there's finals. James said she always saves her best for last.
“I personally save a little for finals. You feel yourself going all out as a fast as you can go,” she said.
The fastest kid in her class since fifth grade, James said she got talked into trying out for the track team as a seventh grader, by her older brother (4-by-200 LHS record breaker) Kahlil James.
My four-point stance is the same stance I used the very first time I ran a sprint,” James said. “Same mark, everything. Nothing's changed in five years since I started in seventh grade.”
When she's not running faster than everyone else in the room, James said she enjoys playing varsity volleyball in the fall, “which gives me a break from running track,” she said, but she's also an avid artist. When she attends college next year, James said she's planning on running track and majoring in psychology with a minor in art. She hopes someday to be a counselor.
First things first for the 11th grader with the outdoor track season fast approaching and plenty of meets to look forward to in her senior year.
The two-time VI 100 meter dash champion, James ran a PR outdoor time of 11.95 as a freshman, then improved that time by .02 of a second last year (11.93). Her goal this spring is a warp speed 11.8 seconds in the 100.
She is coached by Jablonski and her personal trainer, Kevin Bell. Jablonski is assisted by Matt Vermette and Tim Willett.
Follow veteran Lockport sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.