Viking Girls Push Each Other Over the Hurdles

Times Staff Writer

Because two of the finest athletes at Santa Monica High are not only both in the same sport but compete in the same events, the engravers updating the track records inscribed in brass on the wall display in the Vikings' gym should be busy.

Felice Lipscomb, a junior, has run 13.84 in the 100-meter low hurdles, fastest mark in the state and second best in the nation this year, while Erin Morris' 14.54 is eighth in the state. Before their arrival, the previous best in the school's history was 14.9.

And with both on the 400-meter relay team, the all-time Santa Monica mark for that event has been bettered several times this season.

Having the two standouts has helped both individuals, according to Coach Mike Griswold.

"They provide nice incentives for each other to excel," Griswold says.

Morris agrees: "If it wasn't for Felice, I wouldn't be as good as I am and I wouldn't have had the push or something to reach for. I feel it's an advantage."

And Lipscomb, who values Morris as a teammate and a friend, says: "I think it's good that she's right there with me. It pushes me to do better."

Although a senior, this is only Morris' second year in track and her first with a full season of training. It wasn't until the end of fall that she decided to devote her time exclusively to athletics and forgo being a school song leader. Her 2 1/2 years in that role, which involved intensive dance routines, and her four years of training in ballet and jazz dancing have helped her in hurdling, she feels.

"The dancing has definitely helped my flexibility," the 5-9, 126-pound Morris said. "But there are some things I had to correct, like sticking my arms out to my sides going over hurdles and looking like a ballet dancer."

Although Morris came out for the team only a week before the first meet last year, she eventually ran 14.6 in the 100 lows, finishing fourth in league, and advanced to the 4-A Division finals in the 300 lows in 47.00.

With experience from her first season, Morris has made an impact this year. She was runner-up to Lipscomb at the Alemany-Northridge Relays, the Pasadena Games at Occidental College, the UCLA-Beverly Hills Invitational and in last Friday's Bay League finals at Hawthorne High.

Coaches from Cal State Northridge were impressed. They've signed Morris to a letter of intent for an athletic grant. Northridge assistant coach Tony Veney, who coached at St. Bernard High until 1982, was impressed that Morris doesn't hurdle passively.

"Erin is very aggressive," Veney observed. "In the hurdles, you just can't be a baby. You've got to roll on them. You've got to run on them. And if you get tentative, you hit hurdles and you become even more tentative. Erin has a good attitude."

Morris feels her attitude is the biggest difference from last year:

"I think confidence is where I've improved. Before, it was a lack of experience that was something of a problem. Now I get in the blocks a lot more confident."

Assurance is something that Lipscomb has also developed in her three years of competition, according to Griswold: "She has outstanding composure and is tremendous under pressure."

In her freshman year Lipscomb ran 14.7 in the 100 lows. A year later she improved to 14.00 in the 4-A finals and finished third at the state meet in 14.04. This year she has sprinted 12.25 in the 100 and 25.33 in the 200.

Last winter Lipscomb played forward for the basketball team at 5-6, 115 pounds and was one of the team's leading scorers toward the end of the season, even though this was the first time she had played organized basketball, according to Coach Debbie Skaggs.

"Her rebounding was awesome. She has incredible jumping skills," Skaggs said. "If she had started earlier and stuck with it, she'd be one of the best basketball players around."

Lipscomb also has a 3.2 grade-point average.

"I like to excel in whatever I'm doing," Lipscomb explained. "And I like to compete."

In order to excel further in the hurdles, Lipscomb realizes that she needs to improve her technique. She is acutely aware of this after seeing herself on videotape.

"My form was horrible," she said. "I was so embarrassed. I didn't have my arms under control. The first thing I said to myself was, 'How was I ever able to win with this form?' "

Al Sanford, a longtime acquaintance of Griswold and an assistant coach at Loyola High who hurdled at UCLA under Jim Bush, worked with Lipscomb during the spring break to refine her technique.

"Felice has been blessed with incredible foot speed and, until now, has been able to do well on her natural ability," Sanford said. "I definitely think that she will represent us in 1992 (Olympics). I think she has the potential to be that good. She has that special intangible that puts her mentally above people in her (event)."

Lipscomb puts everything in perspective: "Once I get my form together and my talent together, then maybe I can do something with myself."

Besides the hurdles, her favorite event is the 400-meter relay. Junior Alina Howard starts and hands off to senior Margaret Chai, followed by Morris with Lipscomb anchoring. Their best to date is 49.08, one of the top 15 times in the state.

"Our relay team has a chance to get to the state finals," Morris says.

Lipscomb shares Morris' optimism in that event: "There's never a guaranteed win for anybody. There are a lot of things that can happen in that race. It's exciting because you never know."

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