Panthers compete for title at district meet
By Scott Akanewich
If the entire track season is one long race, the Panthers of Liberty Hill are drawing closer to the finish line.
The district meet takes place today (April 1) at East View and only those who finish high enough will move on to compete at the area event, with the ultimate goal being to qualify for the Class 5A state championships.
According to Liberty Hill head boys’ coach Tommy Foster, many of his athletes are peaking at the proper time.
“We’ve had a lot of people getting new personal bests lately,” said Foster, who is in his first season as head coach. “Which is always a good sign. If they’re improving, that’s all we care about.”
In particular, junior Kaden McMahan is certainly one to watch, he said.
“Kaden’s been doing really well for us,” said Foster. “We have him in the 200 meters, the 4×200 relay and the triple jump.”
At the last meet in Burnet, McMahan won both the 200 meters in a time of 23.74 and the triple jump with an effort of 44-06.
Foster also singled out the 4×400-meter relay squad of Jack Philpott, John Gilbert, Ryan Achumuma and Mattvey Carter, with Konnor Bye serving as an alternate.
“They ran 3:30 in Burnet, so I think they’re ready to crack the 3:20s,” he said.
Foster added moving up to Class 5A this season has definitely been a challenge – but one which the Panthers have embraced.
“We’re in a very competitive district,” he said. “But, it’s exactly what we want – running against fast guys.”
Panthers head girls’ coach Susie Kemper is also in her first season of leading the Panthers and has high hopes for many of her athletes heading into district, she said.
“I think we’ve looked pretty good,” said Kemper. “It’s good we’ve had to step up in class this year.”
Having the opportunity to compete in Burnet was a blast from the past – as the Bulldogs were longtime district rivals of Liberty Hill at the Class 4A level.
“Competing there gave us something we’re used to,” she said. “It provided us with something familiar.”
Something else familiar were the results, as the Panthers girls and boys were both victorious in the team standings.
However, it will be back to the future this week – although Kemper believes her team is in a good place at the moment.
“The competition is greater this year,” she said. “But, we rested and ready to go.”
Kemper said favorites on the girls’ side to move on to the area meet are senior Ayanna Donwerth (3200 meters, 1600 meters), Megan Sims (triple jump), senior Taylor Sims (discus) and Payton Hanson and Lexi Whitmore, who both run the 100 and 300-meter hurdles.
In addition to the established veterans on the squad, freshman Allison Keene has been elevated to the varsity after strong performances all season on the junior varsity.
“Sometimes the difference is if we see someone compete really hard, like an extra lean at the finish line, for example,” said Kemper. “We have a really good group of freshman this year.”
Kemper competed for the Panthers before running in college at the University of Alabama and the University of North Texas and said her transition to being head coach at her alma mater has been made easier with some help from those who coached her in her days wearing the Purple-and-Gold.
“I have Coach (Gretchen) Peterson and Coach (Kim) Holt here to help me,” she said. “We make collective decisions together.”
Although she doesn’t miss the daily grind of her competitive days, there is one aspect she does find herself longing for, she said.
“I miss the feeling of being nervous before a race and the one of accomplishment after,” said Kemper. “But, now I get to watch our kids run instead.”