By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
Mendon’s Mary Leighton has been gliding over hurdles for the Hornets for three years now, dominating most Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference races, as well as an assortment of invitationals.
That’s nothing new for the Leighton clan, which boasts a lineage of talented hurdlers. But there’s something about Mary that’s different.
No one in Division 4 in the Lower Peninsula has gone faster than her in the 100-meter hurdles. Not after Saturday. The junior not only claimed a school-record time of 14.93 seconds en route to an MHSAA championship at Grand Rapids Houseman Field, she set an LP Division 4 meet record, beating Michelle Davis’ time of 15.05 for Reading in 2014.
Older sister Grace, who finished fourth at the LP Division 4 Finals in the 100s and sixth in the 300s as a senior in 2014, owns the Mendon 300 hurdles record, which Mary is closing in on. Older sister Caitlin previously had the 100 hurdles school record … until Saturday. Their mother, Sharon (maiden name Beebe), once had the records in the 100 hurdles at Mendon.
Mary Leighton was half a second away from Caitlin’s record midway through this spring, and she was confident she’d pass her sibling.
“I’m looking forward to beating it. I don’t think there’s going to be a party,” she said, mostly in jest, of her sisters not wanting to give up their record-holding status.
“People say it’s in the blood, but I think I was around it so much, it just kind of rubbed off on me. I have them to look up to, so it’s much easier for me. My form has definitely gotten a lot better. I can three-step now instead of four-step. The less steps you have, the faster you can get over the hurdle and the faster you can finish the race.”
Leighton, who was Finals runner-up in 2015, set her sites on a 15-flat time in the 100s by the time this year’s meet rolled around. She surprised herself by going even faster Saturday.
She beat the field by nearly a second. It was a flawless effort, which included a great start and a complete attack of the middle stretch of hurdles.
As soon as Leighton crossed the finish line, she covered her face with her hands in disbelief of the runaway victory and the time on the scoreboard.
“It hasn't really hit me yet on how I did,” a stunned Leighton said hours after the performance. “I just tried to focus on getting through semis so I actually had a shot.”
Her qualifying time was 15.54, which was a good sign of things to come.
“I was so nervous but I felt better and better the more I ran,” she said. “I didn't even know my time until after the 800 relay. I figured I broke (a record) because all the Mendon parents were just so happy, but I never could have imagined I broke the state record as well. I focused on how I could improve all season and my work paid off. I didn't want to take second again. My sister didn't care I broke her record; she was too happy. I am very happy with my performance and can't wait to see how much I can improve next year.”
Leighton added another all-state finish when she joined Emma Eberstein, Jenna Gales and Kaley Smith for a runner-up effort in the 800 relay (1:47.82), finishing just over a second behind champion Fowler. Her third top-eight finish was a fourth-place run of 47.87 in the 300 hurdles.
That wasn’t a school record, so Leighton has something to shoot for next spring.
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mary Leighton covers her face in joy and surprise after a lengthy win in the 100-meter hurdles Saturday at Houseman Field. (Middle) Leighton prepares to clear another hurdle flanked by a pair of opponents. (Photos by Brett Beier.)