COLUMBUS - When John F. Kennedy hurdler Morgan Rice stepped up to the starting line of the Division III girls 100-meter hurdles at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on Saturday, she embraced the fact that all eyes were on the race.
The 100 hurdles was the opening running event at the stadium, and with it, everyone in the stands turned their attention to the track.
"It's kind of nerve-racking because everybody's watching," Rice said. "Everybody always watches the hurdles, but I was ready to go - ready to get it done."
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
John F. Kennedy’s Morgan Rice, center, crosses the finish line to win a state title in the 100-meter hurdles on Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
The junior took care of business in the race, claiming the state title with a time of 14.81 seconds.
Rice beat second-place finisher Monica Rigaud of Steubenville Catholic Central by more than .5 seconds and set a personal record by breaking the 15-second barrier for the first time.
It was a much better result for Rice from a previous showing in Columbus. At the 2012 state meet, she placed 12th in the preliminaries and didn't qualify for the finals, running 16.66.
"I think last year was great for her because she got here, she didn't do what she was supposed to and she had to live with that for a whole year," Kennedy coach Robert Andrews said. "We prepare that way. This is what everything's for - the training is to get to this moment. So, she was prepared for it."
Coming in with the fastest time in the preliminaries this year, Rice didn't leave her competitors much of a chance to pass her, jumping out to a big lead from the gun and never relinquishing it.
That was the game plan for the experienced Rice, who said nerves could play a factor in the race.
"That was my goal because when people get nervous, they start hitting hurdles," Rice said. "I didn't want to get caught back there, so my goal was to get out and keep going."
While her experience played a key role, Andrews pointed to how hard Rice trained over the offseason to get to this point.
The junior spent a lot of time running against some of the best in the area - and the state - on a regular basis. She went up against fellow and newly anointed Eagle state champions, Chad and Carl Zallow, at practice. She also spent time training with LaBrae's Megan Gunther, who finished fifth in the Division II 100 hurdles during last year's state meet and third in this year's Division II 100 hurdles.
These training partners helped spur Rice to the win, Andrews said.
"Working with quality athletes - when you get on the track, you've worked harder than everybody else and have the higher expectation," Andrews said. " 'I'm working hard, and there's good fruit that comes from hard work.' This is obviously the result."
Just a junior, Rice will have the opportunity to come back and defend her title in 2014. She also has the chance to build off her 300-hurdle performance, where she finished in fourth with a time of 44.97.
Andrews said her performances on Saturday won't kill her desire for more.
"It's been a progression, but now, she's at the top," Andrews said. "She's excited and ready to work harder."