Stags' Morrison hits national class

Berkeley sophomore Leanna Morrison, who won two AAAA state titles as a freshman, has the sixth-fastest girls 400-meter hurdles time in the nation.

Berkeley track and field star Leanna Morrison won two state championships her freshman year. The sophomore could be a national champion by the time she graduates if she keeps up the hard work and continues to improve.

Morrison had one of the most impressive performances in last weekend's Class AAAA state qualifier, winning the 400- meter hurdles. She crossed the finish line in 1 minute, 1.11 seconds, more than four seconds ahead of her closest competitor. Her time is sixth best in the country this spring.

Saturday, she has a chance to shatter the state record of 1:00.71, which was set by Nyoka Norman of Westside in 2002. The State Track and Field Championships begins today at Lower Richland High School with finals in field events and concludes Saturday.

"She has unlimited potential," Berkeley coach Twon Williams said of Morrison. "I have worked with her since the eighth grade and she has matured mentally and physically. She's a phenomenal athlete and student. Every coach would love to have her on their team.

"She has the heart of a champion, and hates to lose," Williams added. "That makes it easier to coach her."

Morrison said he was surprised to learn that her 400 hurdles time gave her national elite status by MileSplit.us.

"I didn't expect to be ranked nationally this early in my high school career," she said. "When my coach told me, I was surprised — very surprised. I don't know what the top time in the country is, but being No. 6 in the nation is going to make me work harder."

Kori Carter of Claremont (Calif.) High School is ranked No. 1 with a time of 59.89. Leah Nugent of Abington, Pa., is No. 2 with a time of 1:00.05, which was recorded in the prestigious Penn Relays. She is one of three runners ranked ahead of Morrison who recorded their times at the Penn Relays. Another athlete who is listed ahead of her for now is Mara Chamlee of Easley, who ran a 1:00.37 earlier this season. She competes in Class AAA, so she will not run against Morrison on Saturday.

Morrison is making her third trip to the state meet. She finished seventh in the 400-meter dash as a freshman and won gold medals in the 400 hurdles and the 4x400-meter relay.

This year, the relay team was disqualified at the state qualifier and Morrison decided not to run the 400 dash since it is held right before the 400 hurdles.

She feels no pressure as she attempts to break the state record.

"I treat every meet as if it were a small meet," Morrison said. "I just go out there and run my race like it's any other day. Coach told me not to worry about any other person, any other competitor, any other lane. He told me to focus on myself and everything will fall in place."

Morrison can qualify for the Nike Outdoor Nationals with a good performance Saturday. But she also plays basketball and might attend a camp the weekend the national meet is held. But she's young and will have two more years to compete at the national level.