When Montville's Shatajah Wattely completed her first track and field practice in 2009, coach Joel Finnegan was convinced the quiet freshman was destined to be a distance runner.
"She ran the 100 and the 800," Finnegan recalled. "She was the sixth-fastest in a time trial for the 100, so I'm not sure what we had, although I thought if she developed more strength the 800 would become her primary event."
But Wattely, who got her start in the middle school cross country program, had other ideas.
"I didn't like (the distance events)," she said. "It just wasn't my forte, so when coach let me switch back to the sprints I was at home."
Was she ever.
Four years later, Wattely graduated as the greatest sprinter in Montville history, setting school records in the 100, 200 and 400-meter sprints, as well as anchoring the Indians' 4x100 relay team to another school mark.
"And if she ever focused on the 800," Finnegan said, "she could have broken that school record, too."
Wattely, who finished her career last month by capturing Class M titles in the 100 and 200, winning the State Open championship in the 100 and finishing second at the New England championships (she broke her own school record with a time of 12.03 seconds in the preliminaries), is The Day's 2012 All-Area Girls' Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
"She did what a lot of track and field athletes don't do ... she progressed for four years and got stronger each year," Finnegan said. "And more than just performance-wise, in her maturity and her leadership, too.
"Shatajah went from a quiet, tentative 14-year-old to a mature young adult. That's why we coach and teach. It was wonderful to watch her progression."
And Wattely also excelled during an era when Connecticut produced some of the most elite sprinters and state history - Hillhouse's Precious Holmes, Windsor's Sydney Over and McMahon's Shellyann Lindo. It was Lindo who handed Wattely her only loss in the 100 this season, running an 11.75 race at the New Englands after finishing third at the Open.
"She certainly belongs in that group," Finnegan said. "Shellyann is a runner who Shatajah beat three times earlier in the year, but (Lindo) just ran a fabulous race at the New Englands. Shatajah just got beat by a kid that ran a better race that day.
"You can only control your own performance and I was never disappointed in her effort. She made my job incredibly easy."
And Wattely was the ultimate team player. She stuck with cross country all four seasons because "I don't like starting something and not finishing it." She ran multiple events during her first three seasons when the Indians were contending - and winning - ECC Medium Division titles. And this year, when Finnegan allowed her to scale back and focus on her main events because he knew his young team wouldn't contend for the title, she still wanted to run the relay and even joined teammates Lauren Hess and Cassidy Bundy to win the high jump relay during the Ledyard Relays.
She cleared 4 feet, 10 inches that day, the first time she had ever competed in the event.
"That was really fun," Wattely said. "I had no faith in doing it, but having me team there to encourage and cheer me one was great. ... I wouldn't be as good without them."
Wattely will have new teammates next season when she attends Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
"It's kind of scary looking at something new," she said. "But I'm very confident in myself. I can't wait to see what new goals I can achieve."
Added Finnegan: "I'm certainly going to miss her, but it's time. She's ready to move on and do some great things at the next level."