Ashleigh Tira doesn't exactly cut an imposing figure while standing in the blocks, getting ready to run a hurdles race.
The Sterling sophomore stands 5 feet, 2½ inches tall. She is not that much taller than the obstacles she has to jump over. She admits to being a bit intimidated before races, looking up at opponents.
Then the fun begins.
"They look at me and they look down at me, and they're like, 'I got her,'" Tira said. "I've got to show 'em what's up."
What's up is Tira has made herself one of the top hurdlers in the area. She has a top time of 16.49 seconds in the 100 hurdles, which is within shouting distance of the state qualifying standard of 15.94.
Her specialty, however, is the 300 hurdles. Her top time in that event is 48.22, close to the qualifying mark of 47.84. She will run that race, along with two relays, at the Class 2A Freeport Sectional on Friday.
Tira is the third seed, behind a pair of Burlington Central hurdlers, Jasmine Castillo (46.92) and Bryce Weinrich (47.84).
It is the second year in a row Tira has entered the sectional as the third seed. A year ago, in Burlington, she clipped the seventh of eight hurdles in the 300 lows, tumbled into another lane, and was disqualified.
It was a learning experience.
"I wasn't focused, and I heard someone on the sidelines say something, like 'knee up,' and I wasn't focused on getting over the hurdle," Tira said.
Since last spring, Tira has worked on improving her form. She has a good teacher in Sterling coach Tyler Gaumer, himself a former hurdler in high school and college.
"She has a tendency to swing, which means she brings her leg up from the side rather than staying in line," Gaumer said. "She is getting better at it, and she's getting more and more consistent. A big part of it is just staying confident. She knows she can run this race."
Of the two races, the 300 lows suit her better. There are only eight hurdles to clear, as opposed to 10, and the hurdles are set at 30 inches, as opposed to 33 inches.
Whereas the 100 highs focus more on form, the 300 lows are more about speed between the hurdles. That plays into Tira's strengths, as she also runs sprint relays for the Golden Warriors.
"I like the feeling of doing my thing, and knowing that I'm going to feel like crap afterwards," Tira said, "but this is my race and I've got to do good in it. I love running the 300s."
That's music Gaumer's ears, as he has a willing and able hurdler with tons of upside to work with for 2 more years after this one.
"We talk about hurdling is not about perfection," Gaumer said. "You're not going to be perfect, but you've got to make it as quick and as clean and as crisp as it can be every single hurdle. Every hurdle is a new opportunity to improve upon what you did with the last hurdle."
FYI: Seeded third in the 300 low hurdles at the Class 2A Freeport Sectional. ... Has top time of 48.22 in that race. ... Top time in 100 highs is 16.49 seconds