Deptford coach Patrick Landis walked to Kiara Lester and wrapped his left arm around her shoulders after she won the 400-meter dash at the Gloucester County Championship on Wednesday at Delsea.
"Great race," he repeated three times.
Lester did not respond. The sophomore didn't smile or celebrate her first county championship.
Later, she won the 200 by more than four tenths of a second, but calmly walked off the track after crossing the finish line and found Landis on the infield. Even with her day complete with two county titles, she still maintained the same unemotional stare.
"I'm still mad," Lester said to Landis. She was referring to her first race of the day, a second-place finish in the 100, in which she stumbled out of the blocks.
Lester's competitiveness, which wouldn't let her forget that second-place finish, has helped her break out this year.
At the Rowan Invitational on May 2, Lester ran what at the time was the fastest 100 and 200 times in New Jersey this season. Her 100 time, 12.20 seconds, has since been surpassed by Chanel Smith of Piscataway Township and Bria Saunders from Parsippany, but her time in the 200 (24.83) remains the fastest in the state.
Lester wanted to stay healthy and make herself known this season. After a hamstring injury limited her freshman season, she already has accomplished both of those tasks.
"You hear a lot of people say Torie Robinson or Olivia Baker," Lester said, referring to the Winslow Township senior and Columbia High (Maplewood, N.J.) senior, respectively. "I wanted to get my name out there because I know I'm just as fast as them."
"Kiara is an individual who is very determined," Landis said. "She doesn't like to lose, let's say that. She wants to compete, and that's the best part you see in her."
Lester's expectations for this season came with good reason. She is accomplished as an AAU runner. At the 2012 Junior Olympics in Humble, Texas, she finished second in the 100, fifth in the 200, and second in the long jump among middle-school girls.
"High school, to me, isn't as much competition as AAU because it's a bigger crowd," Lester said. "But high school is more challenging because you're trying to get that scholarship or see where you're going in the future."
"This is what she wants to do. She's a track athlete," Landis said. "You can tell there's something in the way she goes about things that she's going to be different, just the confidence she has in herself."
By the end of the season, Lester wants to run 11.7 in the 100, 23.5 in the 200, and 55 in the 400 and go 19 feet in the long jump. Those times would place her in the mix at each event in the Meet of Champions.
"There's a huge upside for years to come, and it's going to be amazing to see what she can do," Landis said.
After Lester completed her first event at the Gloucester County championship, a fourth-place finish in the long jump, she ran to Landis with a problem. The spikes in her neon green cleats hadn't been switched out for the appropriate ones for the track. She ended up going with a backup pair of cleats for the sprint events.
As Lester ran off to get ready for the 100, an assistant coach noted that she already had her times to qualify for bigger events in the season and that it wasn't a big deal.
But it still mattered to Lester, and that competitiveness is what makes her different.