A year ago, Wilena Little had come so close.
At the 2012 Class 3A FHSAA Finals, Little finished 100th of a second out of eighth place in the 200-meter dash.
Considering only the top eight in each event earn medals, the Springstead sprinter essentially lost out on taking home some hardware in the blink of an eye.
Still, Little was tabbed as Hernando Today's Athlete of the Year, and repeated that selection this past season.
But this time, the sprinter earned a more tangible reward at the conclusion of her junior year, which ended with her third trip to states.
She survived a rain-soaked, wind-packed state meet in Jacksonville in April, finishing fourth in the long jump with a 17-9 3/4.
"I was so happy," Little said. "It was like a dream come true. I always wanted (a state medal) since my freshman year. I was happy about it. I was hoping to get it in the 200, but I improved a lot in the long jump so when that happened I was satisfied with it."
Overall it was another banner season for Little, who garnered her third All-County nod by pacing the county in the long jump (18-4), 200 (24.97), 100 (12.47) and 400 (58.29).
She was also part of the county's finest 4x400 relay, marking the second year in a row she appeared on the county's honor roll five times.
"She had a pretty dang good year," Springstead head coach Joel Myers said. "She got a little better in everything. She got a lot better in the long jump. She worked hard for this. "I think (the state medal) was a big deal. It sort of takes a little pressure off her. She wanted to be a little bit higher, but she's getting better and better in the long jump. Three seniors beat her. She's got a shot at a state championship next year."
What's probably surprising is that Little, the fastest female in the county, found her to way to the state medal stand in a field event.
Her previous two trips to states came in the 200 - she placed 14th as a freshman - and her times certainly didn't decline.
At the 3A-Region II Meet, Little posted a 25.09 clocking after notching her season best in prelims.
That regional final time was faster than seven state qualifiers. It would have tied for third in Region I and given her third outright in Region IV.
In Region III, she would have been a champion by a decent margin. The winning time there was 25.41
But in Region II, it was only good enough to put her in sixth. Only the top four finishers from each region move on to states.
"Our region was just blazing," Myers said. "Everybody got a little bit better. I don't know where they all came from. It's a tough region. Most kids who made it out medaled at states."
"It was definitely frustrating, especially coming off my sophomore year where I was 100th of a second off a medal," Little said. "It broke my heart for sure. But I know I have to work harder to rise above the competition."
The region was so rugged Myers opted to not even try to run Little in the 100 for the state series, instead inserting her into the 4x400.
In the long jump, she was a region champ behind her season high and the exact same height that gave her a district title a week earlier.
For the 400, she was third in the district (1:02.95) and seventh in the regional prelim (59.81) before recording a DNF in the final.
She repeated as a district champion in the 200 with a 25.60, and helped the 4x400 take second at districts and 10th at regionals.
Also for the second straight season, she placed first at the county meet in four events (long jump, 200, 100 and 400) and this time helped the Lady Eagles to a team crown.
That makes her a three-time county champ in the two sprints, and a repeat winner in the long jump and 400.
"I did decent," Little said in evaluating her year. "There's still a lot I need to improve on. But I'm OK with my season. I think I could have done better, but I'm pretty satisfied."
Making her performance more impressive, she estimated she was between 75-80 percent physically.
The hamstring injury that hampered her at the end of her sophomore season no longer lingered, yet regular visits to a chiropractor, Dr. Chris LaRocca, revealed that her nerve endings were tightening up.
Little said this was a result of her increased weight training, as her nerves were slow to adapt to her muscle gain.
"I'm working on getting healthy this summer, for sure," Little said.
In addition to weightlifting, Little joined the cross-country team, also coached by Myers. She ran fives races with a best 5K time of 25:09, good for 27th in the county. Not that she was expected to become a distance ace; the idea was to build endurance.
Next school year she plans to continue that regimen. In the meantime, she's competing on the AAU level for Pedagogy Track Club out of Tampa. With that squad, she said she's working with a sprinting coach and thus her workouts are more specific to that area.
On the horizon is her final prep campaign. She wants to reach 19 feet in the long jump, while getting as low as 23 seconds in the 200, 55-56 seconds in the 400 and a lower 12 seconds in the 100.
There's certainly a realistic chance she can become the first female state champion in Springstead history, and perhaps finally get that medal in the 200. The FHSAA is restructuring its districts for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, though the governing body has yet to release new assignments for track and field.
Then there's the matter of where she'll continue her athletic career. She has just recently begun researching potential college destinations, with hopes of latching to a Division I program.
"That's definitely a big goal, just to go to college period, not just to run," Little said. "I want to go to college to get an education and become a dentist. Track would be a big plus to it all."
By the number: Wilena Little's season bests
200# - 24.97*
100# - 12.47*
400# - 58.29*
LJ^# - 18-4*
^ Denotes state medal event
# Denotes county championship event
* Denotes county's season best