She’s already clocked some of the fastest times in the nation. And she’s only a junior.

KENYANNA WILSON wasn’t even a blip on the national track & field radar last year. She even had a sub-par school season at Peoria High School. But last July, just weeks after that sophomore season ended, she literally exploded on the national scene.

‘Keke’, as her family and friends know her, won the 100 meter and 200 meter races in the USATF Junior Nationals in Indianapolis and, in the process, broke the Region 10 records in both events.

“I wasn’t even considered for the finals,” she recalls. “I was nowhere near fast enough in the prelims, especially the 200… so I was an underdog at the Nationals.

“But I’m not an underdog any more; my times have really shined this year.”

That’s somewhat of an understatement. In early April, she won the 100 meters at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California. Her time was 11.48 seconds – the fastest female high school time in the country to that point. It’s also an AIA record and tied Olympic legend Marion Jones for thirdbest all-time at the Arcadia meet. A week later she won both the 100m and 200m at the Sun Angel Classic at ASU, competing in a field of 45 teams.

But overcoming that underdog state of mind is one of the things of which she is most proud – and eager to share it with others who are younger.

“The fact that I’m doing so much better this year, I think a lot of it is mental,” she explains. “Last season I had a down year, so I decided in the off-season that I was going to have a good season this year. I did all the work my coach gave me… it was just a lot of hard work and mental stress.”

She thinks about her younger brother and sister when she looks back on what she has been able to accomplish: “I want them to see how hard work and determination got me to be the best runner in the nation.”

Coming from an athletic family has also helped, she says. Her father got the ball rolling; he ran track in high school. “We (kids) all run track. We’re all good students… Our parents did a really good job of teaching us the right things.”

But Keke feels she got a late start at the sport, not taking it up competitively until eighth grade. “Most other kids have been running since they were in diapers,” she grins.

Of course, being a naturally-gifted athlete doesn’t hurt the cause. Keke played soccer for Peoria this year, her first exposure to the sport. “Tryouts were the first time I ever kicked a soccer ball,” she is proud to admit. “The season was terrifying…my (track) coaches were afraid every day that I would get hurt.”

As it turned out, she finished the season as the team’s leading scorer, kicking the first – and last – goals of the year.

But dedication played a big part in her success in a new sport, just as it does on the track: “I took a soccer ball home with me and every day I practiced cuts and turns. I progressed from kicking the ball two yards to being able to kick it 20 yards. Once I put my mind to it, I can do anything. And that’s the No. 1 thing I preach to kids.”

She’s not afraid of the responsibility that comes with being someone the younger players want to emulate: “I would love to be a role model for some of the younger female athletes, and not just track and field runners.”

And that will probably be just one more thing she turns out to be good at.