Loudoun Valley senior Jessica Nauta's track and field career started inauspiciously enough: In the spring of her freshman year, she was cut from the soccer team and was looking for a sport.
Nauta joined the track and field team and quickly fell in love with both disciplines. Over the next two years, she developed into one of the AA Dulles District's best athletes, both as a hurdler and a thrower.
Loudoun Valley's Jessica Nauta, left, qualified for the state meet in the 100-meter hurdles last year. "That's the first time everything came naturally," she said.
(Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
"I was going to try out again for the soccer team my sophomore year," Nauta said. "But I really liked track. I really liked the other girls on the team. It was a lot of fun, so I stuck with it, and I started to get better."
Nauta enters her senior season as one of the district's top returning athletes. Last year at the district championship meet, Nauta won the 100-meter hurdles and took second in the 300 hurdles to lead the Vikings to the team title. She was also a regional qualifier in the discus. At the state meet, Nauta finished fifth in the 300 hurdles.
Loudoun Valley girls' track coach Bruce Pugh says Nauta's progress has been a joy to watch.
"She's really made herself into a tremendous athlete," Pugh said. "She has a tremendous work ethic that allowed her to become something. . . . It's been just amazing to see her develop into an all-state hurdler."
Nauta will be a key part of a team with the depth and talent to have a shot at repeating as district champions. Along with Nauta, the Vikings return junior Blair Brown, the All-Met volleyball player of the year who was also the Virginia AA champion in the high jump. She jumped 5 feet 6 last year, one of the Washington area's best jumps. Junior Katie Moreno was one of the area's top 800 runners last year.
Having a strong team around her is part of what pushes Nauta.
"It's a great rush to get points, because that helps your team, and when your team wins, that makes everyone happy," Nauta said.
If track and field did not come naturally to Nauta, working hard did. She said a family full of athletes -- her younger brother played basketball for Loudoun Valley this year, her mother was a track athlete and her father was a lacrosse player -- helped fuel her competitive spirit.
The turning point, Nauta said, came at last year's Handley Invitational, when "everything just clicked," and she ran a time of 15.8 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles, good enough to qualify for her first state meet.
"That was the first time everything came naturally," Nauta said. "I started to realize that this wasn't just something I was mediocre at, that I could be pretty good. Then I started to raise my goals and work a little bit harder."