LEONARD — Under most circumstances, any program would love to be in the top five in the team standings at the state track meet and leave with a gold and silver medal. The Tigerettes were only in that spot because of circumstances out of their control.
Leonard had won the Class 3A girls state track title in 2015 with a bevy of freshmen contributors, serving notice that they would be around for years to come. But for such a talented group, there is normally only one thing — injuries at the wrong time — that can derail a championships run.
“We worry about it every day,” Leonard head coach Rae Holden said. “Never were we healthy at any point last year. Sometimes it takes luck on our side.”
That was what the Tigerettes had to endure last spring. Even though they would have been near full strength by the time the state meet rolled around, Leonard was unable to qualify its usual contingent at regionals and fell short of defending its crown.
“I wouldn’t say we put pressure on ourselves but if we put together our best races, we’ll be good,” Claudia Ware said. “I think we’re going to have a good run. We’ve gained that trust through the years. We’re a group that relies on each other.”
There are no shortage of entries for the Tigerettes, who have no seniors among those making the trip, this weekend at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin but claiming this 3A title won’t be as easy as that first one. Uplift Hampton Prep dropped down in the latest realignment and the crown may be in doubt until the results of the final race — the 1,600 relay.
“Everybody gets better. Everybody wants to beat you,” Holden said. “If both teams are doing what they should, it should be one of us. But you always have to look at Goliad or Wall or those teams that are always there. Don’t be surprised if it comes down to the mile relay.”
The main core of runners, made up mostly of juniors, returns for Leonard. Most of all, all three relays (400, 800 and 1,600) have a chance to rack up points because relays count double.
“No one wants all the glory for themselves,” Jessi Bennett said. “If I don’t run next week, I’m going to leave it all out there this week. Everyone’s always had a real positive attitude.”
Bridget Watson, Katie Gauntt, Ware and Kelcie Simmons make up the 400 relay, Watson, Natalie Simmons, Bennett and Gauntt are on the 800 relay and Bennett, both Simmons sisters and Katharine Thern are on the mile relay.
“It’s been really good to have everybody contributing like that,” Holden said. “It’s not just about the twins.”
Natalie Simmons will also compete in three events after winning the Region II title in the long jump and triple jump and earned the wild card in the 200.
Kelcie Simmons won the Region II title in the 100 in 11.50 seconds, a time that would break the Class 3A record at the state meet by 0.12 seconds.
Bennett will also run the 800 after being the region runner-up. She qualified for state in the event two years ago as a freshman.
“This is what we expected from our group. This is probably our best group overall. They’ve gotten faster and stronger,” Holden said. “They only thing we can control is how we run. All we want to do is run our best times of the year. I feel like we’ll have that big time show up.”
When the Tigerettes won it all two years ago, they destroyed the field by winning all three relays and Natalie Simmons was the champ in the long jump and silver medalist in the triple jump.
The point total of 83 was almost double the runner-up tie at 42. If the Tigerettes just hold their seeding spots, they would total 62 points this year — a number that most years would be good enough for a title but this year can only guarantee they’ll absolutely be in the mix.
“We’re all really prepared for it,” Watson said. “I feel like if any one of us had to race in anything, we could do it. I’ve been looking forward to it all year.”