Taylor and Phipps: teammates first
In nearly every track meet, Leslie Taylor and Kelsi Phipps form half of Mt. Pleasant's state-leading shuttle hurdle team, working together and cheering each other on as the team breaks record after record and claims title after title.
Then, later in the night, they line up again, for the 100-meter hurdles — this time, however, they've become each other's biggest competition.
But is this teammate against teammate matchup a rivalry? Can you call it that?
Ask them, and they answer in unison: “I don't think so."
“It's kind of cool,” Phipps said. “We're both there to push each other. I never want to come off (the track) mad at her because she beat me.”
The pair — Taylor, a senior, and Phipps, a junior — has gone back and forth in the three seasons they've been racing with and against each other. In their two trips to state together, Taylor has finished first and fourth in the 100 hurdles; Phipps has taken third and second.
This year, they’re determined to take first and second — but which one would be which is anybody’s guess.
Taylor holds the school record in the event with a time of 14.79 seconds, and Phipps' career personal best is the 15.12 she ran at Tuesday's Panther Relays — a time that beat the meet record previously held by Taylor.
Taylor says she doesn't mind seeing her record broken, and Phipps is quick to remind her that her name is still on the record board in the high school, with the fastest 100-meter hurdle time in school history — the 14.79, which she ran in 2012.
Taylor responds with her own reminder: “You have another year to break it!”
But for the next month or so, they’ll continue their friendly battle — and racing your biggest competition in practice every day certainly has its advantages.
“I think they both have a lot of respect for each other and each other’s talent,” Coach Dave Hutchcroft said. “They have handled (the competition) extremely well. They are both so competitive, and they work extremely hard. They support each other and push each other in practice — they don’t want one to get ahead of the other!”
At the start of the race, however, its almost always Taylor who’s ahead. Phipps, on the other hand, usually makes a late push.
“They run totally different races,” Hutchcroft said. “Leslie knows that if she wants to beat Kelsi, she’s got to get out to a good start. She’s had to work on strength, on finishing as strong as she started. Kelsi is a slow starter — in fact, she usually hits the first hurdle, since she has such a long stride.”
“Usually I have to play catch up,” Phipps said, but Taylor knows that she can’t let her guard down: “I know she’s coming out strong behind me. It pretty much always comes down to the last two hurdles.”
This season, Phipps has the fastest time in Class 3A with her 15.12, and Taylor is second with a time of 15.29. They are fourth and seventh in the state, respectively, as they head to the Drake Relays this weekend.
“Both are great competitors during the race, but great friends when the race is over, and that is important,” Hutchcroft said. “They support and cheer for each other.”
It helps both to get to big meets and line up next to a very familiar face.
“It’s nice to know that’s probably what state is going to look like,” Taylor said. “We warm up together, and it's more fun.”
The fun stops — temporarily — on the starting line.
“Usually, we get our run through, tell each other good luck … and then we’re silent,” Phipps said.
But the rivalry, if you could call it that, lasts only about 15 seconds — or maybe less, on a really good day.
“We both have good days and bad days,” Phipps said, “but we're always teammates at the end of the race.”