Cool-hand Kayle

If Kayle Peterson played poker, some of the best players in the world would never know if she’s bluffing or not.

Her even-keel demeanor has become a valuable tool in her running world at South Kitsap High School.

After a breakthrough cross-country season last fall that had her placing eighth at state, Peterson showed last weekend she’s just as dangerous on the track.

The senior won the 3,200-meter (two-mile) championship at the prestigious Pasco Invitational Saturday in a personal-best 11 minutes, 13 seconds.

She out-kicked Gonzaga Prep’s Shannon Bell by just under a second.

Just like a good poker player — or a cheetah stalking its prey — Peterson said she likes to grind it out and eventually go in for the kill.

“I just like sitting on everyone and then seeing what I can do in the end,” Peterson said. “I felt good the whole way. I could have run faster, too.”

Cross-country coach Ed Santos and track and field coach Paul Zimmer both said Peterson is capable of becoming just the third SK runner to run a sub-11 minute 3,200-meter race.

“She comes with such a tough mental attitude,” Zimmer said. “Getting under 11 minutes will depend on the race, the conditions and running with the right people.”

Santos said Peterson’s newfound appreciation for track will help guide her to success at state.

“She didn’t really like track season last year,” Santos said. “But then she had some success, so she’s enjoying it more. The best running for her is way ahead of her.”

Santos said he’s never had a runner progress as much as Peterson.

“I’ve never had a girls that started at the point she did and come so far,” Santos said.

Peterson only started running cross-country and track her sophomore year.

In just over two years, she has gone from running enthusiast to NCAA Division I material. She is taking her running skills to Washington State University, where she has earned a partial athletic scholarship.

Santos said Peterson has attributes no coach can coach.

“I’ve never been involved with a girl distance runner that has so much maturity and keeps things in perspective,” Santos said. “She’s just unflappable. Whether its a good workout or a bad workout her attitude doesn’t change much.”

Because this is only Peterson’s third year of organized running, she can’t seem to peg where her mental toughness comes from.

“I don’t know where it comes from,” Peterson said. “I think it comes from within yourself. You either have it or you don’t.”

Santos said it would be tough for Peterson to know where the toughness comes from when that is all she’s ever known. She and her family members have always been avid hikers.

“Her whole family is aerobic and they do aerobic things,” Santos said. “When you’re 6 or 7 years old carrying a backpack, toughness becomes a part of you. It’s just an attitude. For her, this is the way it’s supposed to be.”

While Santos has seen progress since she started running at SK, he and Peterson agree last summer was the point at which everything changed.

“You could see it last summer at the (White Pass) cross-country camp,” Santos said.

Peterson agreed. “I totally focused on training hard last summer,” she said. “After White Pass, I was totally fired up for my senior year.”

Whether Peterson enters state with the best time or one of the slowest times, Zimmer said the other runners better be ready to take her on.

“She’s a grinder,” Zimmer said. “She’ll battle until the end.”

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