Published April 15. 2014 4:00AM Updated April 15. 2014 9:21AM
There's a reason, more than one of them, really, that when Chenoa Sebastian's name is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the hurdles.
Sebastian, now a Ledyard High School senior, qualified for the state meet the first time she hurdled in competition her freshman season, for instance, after making the transition to the track from cheerleading.
She's broken 10 school records in the hurdles in indoor and outdoor track so far in her career, holding the indoor record in the 55-meter event in 8.40 seconds and the outdoor record in the 100 hurdles in 14.81.
She won hurdles championships at her last three State Opens, two indoor and one outdoor, with the latest coming on Feb. 17 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven when she took home the 55 hurdles title with a time of 8.42.
Sebastian has parlayed her successes into a Division I scholarship to compete next year at St. John's University, too, signing a letter of intent last week in a ceremony at the Ledyard High gymnasium.
She's been named The Day's 2014 All-Area Girls' Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.
"It's not often you get a freshman who can enter a program and immediately contribute to the extent she did and then continue to develop over the course of her career," said Ledyard principal Amanda Olsen Fagan, who held several of the hurdles records Sebastian broke.
"She came in and crushed records that had been standing for two decades. That's maybe the clearest indication to me of exactly how rare a natural talent like hers is."
Fagan calls hurdling a science. Sebastian seconds that.
"You just have to enjoy doing it. It takes a lot of practice," Sebastian said. "(This winter), I felt better about it. I feel like I understood the hurdles better so I could have a chance to improve. Just snapping off the hurdle faster, snapping so you could get to the next one faster."
Sebastian is 5-foot-10, her long build giving her a good lead leg, according to Fagan. Then it's Sebastian's speed - she was second in the ECC Large Division in the 55 dash and ran a leg of the 4x180-meter relay - which helps her trail leg whip through quickly.
Ledyard's indoor and outdoor track coach, Dave Tetlow, is also a former hurdler, assisting Sebastian with her mechanics.
A resident of North Stonington, Sebastian attends Ledyard as part of the vocational agriculture program.
She hopes to major in education at St. John's, only making the decision to be a part of the Red Storm's program when she made her official visit on March 24.
At St. John's, located in Queens, Sebastian, the youngest of six children, is looking forward to visiting sisters Sherelle, a fashion model, and Shianne, who is studying to be a neurosurgeon, both of whom reside in nearby Manhattan.
"I like being in big crowds, getting to know a lot of people," Sebastian said of her choice to attend Ledyard and St. John's after leaving tiny Wheeler Middle School.
Sebastian also knows she has a lot to learn about the hurdles, still, to be competitive at the next level. She said signing with the Red Storm, who compete in the Big East Conference, makes her want to push herself harder, allowing her to look forward to the day she's "better and faster."
Said Fagan: "She's really a pretty unassuming kid. You look at her and she's this wisp of a girl with a shy smile, but she is someone else entirely in a competitive setting. That has served her well on the track and in the classroom.
"St. John's will be a challenge for her, but it's really exciting to see her being given that opportunity to focus on success and redouble her efforts to see just how far she can go."