Searching for an answer as to why her competitiveness is both a strength and a weakness, Moline senior hurdler/jumper Taylor Jefford tries giving her best explanation before succinctly telling the truth.
"I play mind games," Jefford said.
Finding precise concentration appears to be Jefford's goal right now.
With three weeks left in her prep career, remaining focused is what can take Jefford to new heights. Passion and drive make her a gifted athlete, but staying composed when things go wrong is paramount as she searches for an elusive Class 3A state appearance.
"She's so determined that she sometimes gets too hard on herself," Moline coach Joel Bohnsack said. "That's what we're working on. She's had a couple breakthroughs. That's what you look for — when the pressure comes on, those girls who can turn it up when they need to."
As the season nears its completion, Jefford knows what she wants.
"I want (the season) to end perfectly," Jefford said. "I just have to stay confident and not get discouraged."
Confidence is something she certainly possesses, cultivated from a work ethic and determination Bohnsack calls Jefford's greatest strength. With that comes natural ability in the two hurdles races, plus the long jump and triple jump.
What sometimes keeps Jefford from reaching her full potential during meets is a loss of focus when things go wrong.
"I like to show my emotions," Jefford said. "I freak out sometimes."
Jefford can be her worst critic.
"I just get worked up in one event, and it seems to mess up my other events depending on my attitude," Jefford said. "It's not that I have a bad attitude, but I'm either too upset to compete or I'm bad and I do better."
All this happens because she wants to be the best.
Part of the determination comes from missing state in the triple jump last year by three-fourths of an inch. Knowing how close she came, Jefford rededicated herself to improving and settling for nothing but perfection.
No wonder she is sometimes too hard on herself.
"Those girls who want to do well and are striving to be champions need to be hard on themselves to a certain extent," Bohnsack said. "As long as she uses that as a positive, she'll continue the success."
There are moments when the emotions actually calm Jefford. Then there are ones where it affects her focus.
"How I do in one event will change how I do in another event," Jefford said.
With the help of her coaches, Jefford is working at maintaining her composure in every event. If a jump or race goes well, she still will celebrate. If a jump or race goes wrong, the key is quickly moving past it and focusing on the next event.
Those within the program hope the focus remains as Jefford enters today's Western Big 6 Conference meet in Galesburg and next Friday's Class 3A Belleville East Sectional. Jefford has the ability and drive to compete in the jumps and the hurdles, but keeping the emotions under control will help in her quest to reach the state meet.
"I know my times are going to get better," Jefford said. "I know my distances are going to get better."
Jefford knows it will happen because she wants it to happen. The drive and determination have always been there, in both good times and bad.
Most of the times, Jefford uses the competitiveness in a good way.
"You'd rather have someone who is really passionate about something vs. someone who doesn't," Bohnsack said. "That passion will carry you to the next step."
Conference track preview capsule
Western Big 6 Conference girls' meet
When: Today Where: Van Dyke Field, Galesburg Times: 4 p.m. (field events) and 5 p.m. (track events) Defending champion: Rock Island FYI: The Rocks look to win their second consecutive and league-leading 25th title. ... The only time Moline or Rocky did not win the league title was 1984. United Township won it that year. ... The scheduled rain date is Saturday with an 11 a.m. start.
Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference girls' meet
When: Today Where: DeKalb High School, DeKalb Times: 3 p.m. (field events) and 4 p.m. (track events) Defending champion: Geneseo FYI: The Maple Leafs look to win their third consecutive league crown. ... Geneseo is the reigning conference champion in the 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays. ... Per DeKalb athletic director Bryon Houy, field events could be moved into the school's fieldhouse if there are weather issues and meet officials "will do everything in our power" to make sure the event gets completed today.
Lincoln Trail Conference coed meet
When: Today Where: Wethersfield Memorial Stadium, Kewanee Times: 3 p.m. (field events) and 5 p.m. (track events) Defending boys' champion: Mercer County Defending girls' champion: Annawan-Wethersfield FYI: Six individual champions return in the girls' meet. ... Mercer County is seeking its third consecutive boys' title. ... Annawan-Wethersfield has won the previous six girls' titles. ... The rain date for the meet is Monday.
Three Rivers Conference girls' meet
When: Today Where: Bud Cole Field, Morrison Times: 4 p.m. (field events) and 5 p.m. (track events) Defending champion: Erie-Prophetstown FYI: Erie-Prophetstown senior Paige Rus is the reigning champion in the triple jump and high jump. ... Riverdale senior Liz Oltman won both the 100 and 300 hurdles a year ago. ... The rain date is Saturday.
West Central Conference coed meet
When: Today Where: Clifford King Field, Sherrard Times: 3 p.m. (field events) and 5 p.m. (track events) Defending boys' champion: Monmouth-Roseville Defending girls' champion: Sherrard FYI: Sherrard has won 11 consecutive Olympic/West Central titles. ... Sherrard's Danielle Crawley (100- and 200-meter dashes) and Rockridge's Devin Hasson (100 and 300 hurdles) are the lone returning multiple-event winners. ... The Titans returning six individual champions from last year's meet winner. ... The rain date is Saturday at noon.