LHHS runners are Class 4A State Champions

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The Liberty Hill 1,600-meter relay team poses with their medals and the baton from their state-championship winning run. From left are Rachel Gallander, Shaylin Vickers, Ana Rodriguez and Lily Miller. (Sean Shapiro Photo)

The Liberty Hill 1,600-meter relay team poses with their medals and the baton from their state-championship winning run. From left are Rachel Gallander, Shaylin Vickers, Ana Rodriguez and Lily Miller. (Sean Shapiro Photo)

By SEAN SHAPIRO

AUSTIN — In the most stressful, nerve-inducing race of the season, the Liberty Hill girls 1,600-meter relay team clinched a state championship Saturday by seven hundredths of a second.

Liberty Hill entered the final exchange with a slight cushion, courtesy of three strong laps by Lily Miller, Ana Rodriguez and Shaylin Vickers.

“It was stressful,” Rachel Gallander, who ran the anchor lap, said. “Everybody got such a great lead for me, and I didn’t want to make us lose.”

And Gallander delivered.

While Uplift Hampton Prep’s Diana Granados was breathing down her neck, Gallander found an extra gear in the final 80 meters.

She almost lost the lead, but regained it and crossed the finish line, giving Liberty Hill a state-winning time of 3:58.43. Uplift Hampton Prep crossed in 3:58.50, but had to settle for silver.

“I knew I was in front of her,” Gallander said.

After she crossed the line and “Liberty Hill” flashed across the video board, Miller, Rodriguez and Vickers doused Gallander in water in front of an announced crowd of more than 20,000 at University of Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium.

“It was like a movie,” Miller said. “You know like those big finishes at the end?”

Pretty good for a group of girls who were just happy to qualify for the state meet.

“We came in thinking and thought we could get last, and that would be fine, because we just made it to state,” Rodriguez said.

And it wouldn’t have surprised most people if Liberty Hill missed the podium completely.

The group entered the race with the fourth-slowest seedtime at 4:01.68.

The five teams seeded ahead of them all entered with a regional time of 4:00.53 or quicker. And several attending media members had billed the girls 1,600-meter relay as a showdown between Uplift Hampton Prep (which featured two individual medal winners) and Texarkana Liberty-Eylau (which won the 800-meter relay earlier that evening).

And that showdown played out for second, but Liberty Hill made itself the topic of the conversation.

Miller started strong on the first lap and had Liberty Hill amongst the leaders.

Rodriguez kept pace and edged her team into a battle for the top three spots as Liberty Hill, Uplift Hampton Prep, and Texarkana Liberty-Eylau pulled away from the rest of the field.

On lap three, Vickers gave Liberty Hill a larger cushion and then watched as Gallander entered one final battle in lap four for a state championship.

“I thought she was gonna lose,” Vickers joked. “That girl was good.”

Seriously?

“It was just stressful,” Vickers said. “But it ended up good.”

It also put a potential exclamation point on a dominant season for Liberty Hill athletics.

Across multiple sports – boys and girls – the Panthers have made deep playoff runs and reached state tournaments, but the 1,600-meter relay team was the first group to finish the job and claim a state title.

“We were so happy,” Vickers said.

“We all hugged on the track, she was screaming,” Rodriguez said, pointing to Miller, who nodded.

And then Gallander wrapped up the group’s thoughts, just like she wrapped up the relay.

“It was awesome.”

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