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story.lead_photo.caption Liberty-Eylau's Lauren George leaps over a hurdle during the girls 300 meter hurdles at the 15-4A Area Track and Field Championships on April 20, 2017, at Rabbit Stadium in Atlanta, Texas. George finished second in the event. Photo by Jerry Habraken / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — The Liberty-Eylau Lady Leopards track and field program has quietly grown into a powerhouse in East Texas and have even staked claim statewide.

The Lady Leopards won state championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011. L-E was also the state runner-up in 2005, 2008, 2015 and 2019.

Carlos Simmons heads the Lady Leopards track program, and he's adamant about continuing the rich Leopard tradition in girls' track and field.

"For the last 15 years, the Liberty-Eylau Lady Leopards track and field program has been as dominant as possible," Simmons said. "Last season, we broke the state 4 x 200 meter track record and won the 4 x 200 meter relay at the Texas Relays. Last year, we finished as state runner-up and we also finished in the top-10 nationally with our 4 x 200 meter relay time. We also won the the 4 x 400 meter relay for the third consecutive year in state last season.

"Our relay program has been really dominant the past decade. We've been able to compete with some of the best in the country and the nation. Going into this season, we were really excited about our 4 x 100 meter relay, 4 x 200 meter relay, as well as Danielle Thomas, Chelsea Simmons and Laqukeisha Jeffery. Simmons and Thomas were a part of all the relays last year that won. Last week, Milesplit named Thomas as one of the top-10 unsigned track and field athletes in the state of Texas."

Simmons also credits his predecessors for laying the framework for the Leopards continued success.

"It started with coach Bob Carter," Simmons said. "Carter was able to three-peat with state championships. Then came coach Shonda Wilson and coach Clay Busby. We run at a high level, but that's directly contributed to our offseason program. I'm willing to put our offseason program against anyone in the state.

"Every year there's a freshman that sees what the senior is doing through the program," Simmons said. "The next year, that same freshman will have developed in our program to what we want. We had a freshman come from the eighth grade, she was squatting 25 pounds. By the end of the year, she's lifting 280 pounds. She was squatting a lot in just six months."

The Leopards mantra is "No Days Off," and Simmons intends to keep it that way.

"You see us around town with the T-shirts that say 'No Days Off,'" Simmons said. "What we're going through right now is really driving the girls crazy. They're some great young women and that's what you love.

"A lot of coaches have said on Milesplit that we own this part of East Texas for boys track. Actually, Milesplit came to the Paul Parr Relays this year and they were able to interview some of the young women in our program. What gets us is that we have to do relays. We don't have the abundance of bodies that individuals can run certain races and they don't have to run relays."

The Leopards also aren't afraid of competition, facing some of the fastest amateurs in the country.

"I'm really proud of how they have handled everything," Simmons said. "For the past three seasons, we've faced people like Shacarri Richardson and Alexus Brown. Both of them were considered the fastest in the country their respective graduation years. This year Melissa had two young ladies that were really good. Our relay team was able to beat them every year. We're doing something right, we just have continue to keep faith in what we're doing and trust in the program."

L-E believes "All Roads Leads to Austin," so maybe once the suspension is over, the Leopards can get back on track.

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