Photos by Sam Chandler.
Caitlyn Little cruises down the backstretch in her leg of the Hoover girls 4x400-meter relay at the Class 7A indoor state meet, held at the Birmingham CrossPlex Feb. 5-6.
Barreling down a smooth stretch of Mondo track at the Birmingham CrossPlex in early February, Caitlyn Little appeared to be gliding.
With her legs stretched horizontally and feet pointing in opposite directions, she effortlessly leaped over the series of 33-inch hurdles at top speed, clearing each by the slightest of margins.
As Little, a Hoover High junior, sped toward the finish in the Class 7A 60-meter hurdles final at the Alabama High School Athletic Association State Indoor Track and Field Championships, she narrowly trailed only one competitor: teammate and training partner Brittley Humphrey.
At the line, Little crossed in a personal-best time of 8.71 seconds, placing second to Humphrey, who crossed in a sizzling 8.47.
“I know she doesn’t like getting beat by Brittley,” Hoover head track and field coach Devon Hind said, “but she works hard and she’s established herself as one of the best hurdlers ever in the state of Alabama.”
Often excelling in the shadow of her more established teammate, Little has quietly crafted a stellar prep career, earning a pair of state titles and a trio of runner-up performances while adopting a team-first mentality.
“She has been chasing one of the best hurdlers in the nation, but she’s had a great attitude and never gets discouraged,” Hind said.
That much is clear.
Ever since her days at Bumpus Middle School, Little has brought a spirit of determination to the track, fearlessly chasing after her athletic goals.
As a hurdler, there’s no other way to do it.
One of the most daunting and difficult events in track and field, hurdling requires courage, as the smallest miscue can result in a wipeout-causing collision with the barrier.
Not one to back away from the challenge, Little has persistently worked on her skill, steadily progressing from a seventh-grader who stutter-stepped between hurdles to the high-caliber athlete she is today.
“I’ve come a long way from where I was when I first started,” Little said.
She has, but not only in the hurdles.
Blessed with innate speed, Little also shines in the sprints. And, as a freshman on the Hoover team in 2014, that’s exactly where she made an instant impact, scoring at sectionals in the 100 and 200 meters.
But, after qualifying for the state meet as a ninth-grader, she tallied a pair of 19th and 21st-place finishes, missing the finals in each event.
Determined to yield a better result the following year, Little refocused her efforts during her sophomore campaign. Plus, she received a boost of inspiration from a person she considers one of her best friends: Humphrey.
Observing her meticulous work ethic up close on a daily basis, Little became dedicated to emulating Humphrey’s example.
“OK, I need to get up there with her too,” Little remembers telling herself prior to her sophomore track season.
Although frequently battling for position at meets, the duo maintains a close relationship, each playing an integral role in the other’s development.
“They challenge each other every day in practice,” Hind said. “They run side by side in the hurdles. Caitlyn will watch Brittley, and Brittley will watch Caitlyn.”
Ranked among the nation’s top 20 in the 60 hurdles during the 2016 indoor season, the two, along with coach Erika Russ, provide each other with mutually beneficial insight.
“We know what it’s supposed to look like, so if we see something that’s off, we’re like, ‘Oh, OK, we’ll fix that,’” Little said.
Reaping the product of her labor, Little’s hard work paid off in 2015.
One year after her back-of-the-pack finishes, she captured her first and second state titles at the 2015 outdoor state meet, placing first in the 100 and 200.
“It was so great. I think I was seeded to come in third in the 200, so just to win and actually have a state title was just really good,” Little said.
After playing volleyball at Hoover as a freshman and sophomore, Little chose not to participate in the fall, shifting her attention solely to the oval for her pivotal junior year.
What’s in store
Her success carrying over to 2016, Little helped propel the Bucs to a third straight indoor state title this winter. In addition to her runner-up finish in the 60 hurdles, she placed sixth in the 60-meter dash and ran a leg on the second-place 4x400-meter relay.
Now, she’s more focused than ever.
With aspirations of running for a major Division I university like Florida State or UCLA, she’s striving to lower her times and collect more medals as she contributes to a potent Bucs squad looking for its fifth consecutive outdoor state title.
“Being around the team and just scoring points for the team, especially state when you get to win, it’s just a really good experience for everybody,” Little said.