CLOVIS - Liberty track and field coach Ryan Renz was excited about this season for his girls team coming in, but wanted to keep his expectations in check.
Now with the preliminary heats and flights at the 101st CIF State Track and Field Championships at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis in the books, his expectations for a big finish are heightened.
Liberty has three sophomores in a total of five individual finals on Saturday, including his daughter, Reese, as the No. 2 seed in the girls 300 hurdles. Renz is also in the 100 hurdles finals, Faith Bender is in the girls discus and shot put finals and Bella Rigby is in the girls discus finals with Bender.
And the 1,600 relay team with Renz, Rebecca Vanderpoel, Alexa Schacher and Ellen Palmgren set a school-record and are the seventh-seed in the finals with a time of 3:50.01.
The expectation was high for this team in a year or two, but the present is pretty impressive.
“So far everything has gone well today,” Ryan Renz said. “I think before the season started that it would be tough to contend for a state title, but the girls have really put themselves in great position and busted their tails and are in this position.”
The favorite to win the girls team title is Clovis-Buchanan, which beat out Liberty for the section title a week ago. Also in contention is Long Beach-Wilson.
But here is Liberty with hopes of a state title with four sophomores, a junior and one senior in the finals. All six Liberty girls that advanced to state are in the finals in one fashion or another as Vanderpoel was unable to advance in the girls 200 and 400 but is on the relay team.
“It’s really exciting. I am really happy everyone made their finals in their event,” Bender said. “We have been working hard all year.”
Bender was the top seed in the shot put coming in with a personal-best mark of 47-4.75 in the section finals last week, but finished fifth in the prelims at 44-8.25. Bender also had the fourth-best mark in the discus (151-8). Neither marks were near her PRs, but Bender, who finished fifth at state in the discus as a freshman last season, knows the slate in cleared heading into the finals.
“I am going to delete all those throws,” Bender said. “I am going to look over them, obviously, but (Saturday) is a new day with a new technique and a new attitude. I need to come out with a boom like I am still on top.”
In her freshman year in 2018, Rigby had the ultimate heartbreak after missing out on advancing out of the South Area championships with three sector throws.
Rigby spent the entire offseason, when she wasn’t playing volleyball or basketball this year for Liberty as a sophomore, working on her strength and technique in hopes that never happened again.
In her first state competition, Rigby’s first attempt in the prelims in the girls discus at 140-5 was good enough to get her into Saturday’s finals and she continued to improve from there.
Her third and final attempt on Friday of 145-6 was good for sixth place and she will join Bender in the finals.
“This means the world,” Rigby said. “I was coming in a little skeptical today, especially because of last year. But just to get in and be able to go again (Saturday) is exciting.”
Renz was on the cusp of advancing to the finals in the girls 100 hurdles coming into the prelims with the ninth-fastest time in the state coming into the finals.
Then Renz took second in her heat and finished fifth overall with a personal-best time of 14.21 seconds.
“I just hope (Saturday) I can come out and show them what I am all about,” Renz said.
Renz capped off her hurdles night in the prelims with a second-best time in the 300 hurdles of 42.62, her second-fastest time this season set at the Arcadia Invitational in April.
“Going in, I had the same mindset as Arcadia that there are so many good girls here that if I am fast off the turn then that would give me a good chance of being in the lead at the end,” Renz said.
Renz won her heat and is in both finals for the first time and now running for something bigger than just herself, both literally and figuratively.
“If I can carry over my time (in the 300 prelims) as one of the top placers we can carry that over to being the (team) state champs,” Renz said. “This year coming in, I thought we would have a good team, but I didn’t think we had a chance to win a state title. This is super cool.”