The John Tyler Lady Lions caught up to speed during the 2013 track and field season.
With a solid core of sprinters pacing them, the Lady Lions chased down the program's first district title in 26 years. JT stamped the historical season by sending its first girls relay to state in 13 years.
The 800-meter relay of senior Breuna Gipson and juniors Christina Lampkin, De'Shalyn Jones and Tanisha Vaughn go for the gusto — a coveted gold medal — on Friday at the UIL state track and field championships. The JT girls take to the track at 7:25 p.m. at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
JT enters state with the second-fastest qualifying time behind defending state champion Lancaster. At regionals in Arlington, Lancaster completed the two-lap event in 1 minute, 38.86 seconds to edge JT (1:39.46). The Lady Lions boast the nation's 23rd-fastest time, with Lancaster ninth (1:37.75) from a clocking it used to take second at the Texas Relays.
The Lady Tigers used a victory in the 4x200, in a blistering 1:36.53, to help the Dallas County powerhouse win their ninth state championship a year ago. Two of the relay members remained for an encore — first leg A'Driana Berkhaulter and anchor Eboni Coby.
"Right now we're focusing on the things that we did wrong in Arlington," said Gipson, who runs the second leg. "That way when we go out there we can do everything correct. Were hoping to beat Lancaster and get first place and win state. We want to win this whole thing."
The Lady Lions 4x200 sees two silver linings in finishing second at regionals. One, they get to go where no JT girls relay team has gone since the 4x100 and 4x200 both advanced to state in 2000. And, they receive another crack at Lancaster.
JT knocked off nearly three full seconds in a three-week span, going from 1:42.28 in winning district, to 1:42.05 while placing second behind Lancaster at area prior to dropping to 1:40.46 in regional preliminaries.
The 2000 Lady Lions, led by anchor leg Lakadron Ivery, topped out at 1:40.24 on the way to taking sixth at state, a time bested last month by the current crop.
"We put a lot of hard work and effort into practices," Lampkin said. "It all just came together like this. It's exciting because we didn't expect this to happen."
The Lady Lions track program endured a coaching change after last year's overseer of the girls, Ricklan Holmes, took over as the school's athletic coordinator and head football coach in May of 2012. Longtime assistant Tracy Walker stepped in, and motivated JT to get over the hump after a second-place in district the previous year with a host of underclassmen.
The foundation proved to be set, with Jones and Vaughn back after qualifying for regional finals in individual races as sophomores. Nine other girls who qualified for regionals also returned.
"Since day one, when we were all in homeroom, Coach Walker emphasized making it to state in all her speeches," Lampkin said. "We didn't know how it would turn out. Making it to state was the whole focus."
JT made area in all three relays, and reached regionals in the 4x100 and 4x200. The middle relay seems to fit JT to a tee, with Gipson coming off a fourth-place finish at district in the open 200. Lampkin won the 100 at district, a year after placing second in the 100 and fourth in the 200 as a sophomore.
Jones, who won the 400 at district a second straight year, brings speed and endurance to the table. In the meantime Vaughn, who placed second in the 200 at area and won district in the same race as a sophomore, provides the goods to chase competitors in her bread-and-butter race.
"The pace has to be the same," Lampkin said. "We have to run the curve all out. When you come into the straightaway at 50 meters, you have to stride it. When you come close to the exchange zone, you have to pick it up. And the person that gets the stick has to literally take off.
"We have to do what we've been doing, but 10 times harder."
Lampkin spoke for the group as a whole in saying it is not content with getting to the big stage. JT wants the top spot on the medal stand.
"We want the gold, not the silver, not the bronze," Lampkin said. "We want the gold."
UIL State Track and Field Meet
Girls 4x200 Meter Relay*
CC Flour Bluff1:43.57
*-Race is scheduled for 7:25 p.m. on Friday in Austin.