A year ago, Megan Klein was enamored of the steeplechase.
Klein, then a sophomore, already had made a name for herself as a top-notch distance runner for Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
As a middle-schooler, she had dabbled in hurdles.
"I actually was planning on doing hurdles in high school, too, but ... he kind of said 'choose one,'" she said, nodding toward Coach Killion Timoney. "I'm glad I chose distance."
Combining her distance talent and hurdles background seemed a natural fit.
Steeplechase is not a High School State Meet event in Kentucky, though.
So when Klein wanted in at last year's (Tennessee) Volunteer Track Classic, Timoney said ... nope.
"We needed Megan to kind of focus a little bit more on her individual events that would help us when we got to the State Meet," Timoney said last week. Not only is the steeple not a part of the State Meet, jumping over 18 solid 21/2-foot barriers — and five laps with a water jump — adds potential for injury.
Two weekends ago, though, Timoney let Klein make her steeple debut at Tennessee.
"I wanted to get Megan paid back for some of the hard work she'd put in and get some of the attention," he said. "I never really set any limits for what I expect from Megan because she exceeds everything that we put out for her. I knew that she would be awesome at the steeple."
Klein, 17, finished runner-up to Virginia high schooler Sarah Dorrell, clocking 7 minutes, 44.06 seconds for 2,000 meters at the Vols meet.
"I had never jumped over the water barrier," Klein said. "I went over to UK before the Tennessee meet and practiced over a couple barriers, but not much."
A week later, in the Eastern Relays at University of Louisville, Klein won while dropping her time to 7:13.67. That qualified her for next month's New Balance National Championships in North Carolina. Her time briefly was listed No. 2 in the nation, although that has since dropped to No. 8. Six of those with better times are from New York, where the steeple is a State Meet event.
(Lexington Christian's Will Mullett, the boys' steeple winner at U of L, is listed No. 11 nationally by Dyestat.com.)
"My goal going into it was 7:25, just to qualify (for nationals), so I was excited to get 12 under that," Klein said. "The rankings don't mean that much to me. I want to go to nationals and place that high."
Her times turned heads.
"I was actually kind of amazed at how quickly word spread," Timoney said. "Contact from college track coaches was immediate."
The steeple, as with the hammer throw and javelin, is not commonly contested in high school. Show proficiency in one of those events and, it would seem, odds of being able to contribute immediately as a college freshman soar.
Timoney heard from coaches across the nation, including the major Kentucky programs. (College contact with Klein is prohibited until July 1.)
Klein is a proven performer in track and cross country. After placing 140th in 3A State Cross Country as a freshman, she has finished fourth and seventh. On the track, she has helped Dunbar's 4-by-800 relay improve from 14th as an eighth-grader to seventh and fifth. She has taken third at 1,600 meters each of the last two years, and fifth in last season's 3,200 meters.
Now that she's gotten her feet wet in the steeple, Klein will refocus on her team. First up is Thursday's City Public School Championships.
"I want to drop a lot of time off my mile (1,600) and two-mile (3,200)," she said. "I've only been able to race the mile twice this year and haven't raced the two-mile at all, so I'm looking to see those times drop and hopefully do something at State in those events."