The Leopards placed fourth in the state track meet last year -- only 3 1/2 points out of first place.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
LIBERTY -- If you're driving north on Belmont Avenue just past Gypsy Lane, you might see a sign with the names of Liberty High's 2002 state champion 4x200-meter relay team -- Jasmine Smith, Whitney Spence, Brittny Humphrey and Jessica White.
It's a nice sign, but it hasn't made Smith a celebrity. Yet.
"I think we need a bigger one," she said with a laugh.
Smith isn't what you'd call a shy girl. She thinks big. Winning a state title in a relay is nice. Winning a state title as a team is nicer.
"We want to win the whole thing," Smith said. "We want to bring home a big trophy."
The Liberty team just missed it last year. The Leopards took just five girls to the state meet (at least three were injured) and they still placed fourth, missing first by 3 1/2 points (31 1/2 to 28).
That's not much -- and no one knows it better than Liberty coach Jay Cripe.
"If everything goes well, yes, we can win it," he said. "But you never know what can happen."
That's what makes it so unpredictable. Batons drop. Girls get injured. Someone has a bad race or a bad meet.
"There's all kinds of ifs and buts," Cripe said. "But we have everyone back. We're gonna show up and contend and we definitely have a very good chance."
Liberty's biggest key is health. Smith struggled with strained ligaments in her leg last year and was limited to just running relays.
She's recovered and has one of the area's best times in the 100, running a 12.0 in the preliminaries of last Saturday's Poland Invitational.
Humphrey had a bad knee last year. Ami Markowitz, who ran on the third-place 4x100 relay at state, was also hobbling. They're healthy now. And with some new additions, like freshman Carla Hill, the Leopards should be better.
"We know what we have to do," Humphrey said. "We know we have to work hard and stay focused. You don't want to lag behind."
And in this area, it's easy to lag behind. Girard sophomore Cachet Murray leads a strong Indians team that finished sixth at state last year. Ursuline is also good, led by senior hurdler Amber Miller and sophomore sprinter Cierra Bennett.
"They're not going unnoticed," Cripe said.
For now, Cripe is experimenting with different relays, trying to find the best combinations for later in the season. There's a lot of competition for those spots, and it's bringing out the best in the Leopards.
"These girls have a lot of self motivation," he said. "They want to succeed and they have a lot of pride.
"They know they're capable of winning a state championship and they're working hard to get it."