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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Liberty High's Morganne Hill has a solid lead at the finish of the 100-meter hurdles Wednesday at the SWYL Championships.

Describing Morganne Hill is not done easily or quickly. But like much about Hill, it sure is fun.

Hill is an elite hurdler who also runs cross country for Liberty. She's a fiercely serious competitor who can laugh with anyone, including herself, the moment she walks off the track. She's a leader but a youngster, a sophomore who seems like a natural for the spotlight.

She also is The Californian's Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

"She is all personality, no doubt about it," Liberty track coach Ryan Renz said. "She's fun to be around. That kid bings a positive attitude to practice every day. Not many kids have what she has: To be a special, special athlete like that and still have the fun and have a good time. She's just a pleasure to be around."

Hill also happens to be one of the best high school hurdlers in the state: She finished fifth in the 300-meter hurdles at the CIF State Track and Field Championships last month, clocking a personal-best time of 42.43 seconds in the state preliminaries. She also finished sixth in the state in the 100 high hurdles, again recording her best time in the prelims, a 14.14.

She won Central Section titles in both events, was never tested in a local hurdles race and also anchored the Patriots' 1,600 relay team to state, where it finished 14th.

"I had a really solid season," said Hill, who qualified for state in the 300 hurdles as a freshman. "I heard from a lot of previous athletes, 'Just make sure you're not the kid who has an amazing freshman year and think they're just going to be amazing.' So I knew I had to keep giving 110, 120 percent. And it was a really nice season."

Her progression in the high hurdles especially came as a pleasant surprise.

"I knew she would be better, with her second year really doing the hurdles seriously, and I thought she could get into the 42s in the 300 hurdles," Renz said. "But I never thought she would be where she is in the high hurdles. I was shocked."

Hill's time in the 100 high hurdles ranks fourth all-time in the Central Section; she's third-best ever in the 300 hurdles, with two years to come.

Through it all, Hill was her smiling, engaging, fun-loving self.

"I try to make it an experience," she said. "Track can be a stressful thing. It's like, 'Oh, dear, I know I'm going to be in pain at some point during this practice.' And on the track, I'm very serious, but in between, I'm going to mess around with the coaches and have some fun. Otherwise, what's the point of a sport if you're not going to enjoy it?"

But make no mistake: Hill is as serious as they come, immediately regretting an extra step in between hurdles or wishing her time could have been just a little bit better.

"Once you get on the track, it's a whole different world," she said. "It's very serious. It's like, you have to keep buisness and pleasure separate."

Hill started her sophomore year with cross country season, which seems like odd training for a hurdler who relies on burst and acceleration. But Hill, who finished second in the Southwest Yosemite League cross country finals, said it radically improved her strength and gave her a training base to start from when track season rolled around.

"It was great for her," Renz said. "She became that much better of a trainer, it helped her in the 300 (hurdles) and in the 400. I saw no negative effects at all."

Hill, who spends a large part of each summer with family in Idaho, attended a Washington State track camp in late June and plans on coming into cross country season with even more of a fitness base as a junior.

If the year goes as much according to plan as this one did, look out.

"I'd like to win a state championship," Hill said. "It's not 100 percent, but I think I can do it. I knew there would be competition this year, so I thought, 'OK, compete, just do your thing.' But when you're an upperclassman, that's when you really start thinking about it."