Mountain Valley track and field champion Lauren Sterling will try to defend her title again this year. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

RUMFORD — Lauren Sterling has a banner in her bedroom with the Mountain Valley Conference 100-meter hurdles record of 15.94 on it — handmade by her father.

The Mountain Valley senior and two-time defending state champion sees it every morning when she wakes up, and every night when she goes to sleep.

And no matter what she does throughout the day, there it is when she returns, reminding her of the goals she has set for herself.

“When you think of leadership and what it takes to be a good track athlete, the dedication, that commitment, what you put in is what you get out, Lauren encompasses that,” coach Adam Curato said.

After finishing 10th at the state meet her freshman year, Sterling started to set goals for herself for the following year.

“For sophomore year, I set two goals for myself,” Sterling said. “I wanted to be on the podium and I wanted to be able to three-step in between my hurdles, because I knew that would shorten my time a lot. I achieved one of them, and kind of overachieved the other.”

As a freshman, Sterling was stepping four or five times between each hurdle and relying on her athleticism to get through the race. By the end of her sophomore year, she was ready to try to three-step between each hurdle to try to challenge for the state crown.

“We went from going five steps, then got her to four,” coach James Taylor said. “Then at states, her first prelim run, I said to just run it and three step the whole way and she did. In the finals she beat the girl from Sacopee Valley over the last couple of hurdles. I don’t think the girl expected anyone to be with her. It wasn’t given to her, she worked her butt off. She’s always the last one here and the coachability with her with off the charts.”

At school, Sterling has been on the staff for the fall play and the spring musical each year since sophomore year, too — just another activity on her already crowded schedule.

“I am the stage manager for our school plays, so I assistant direct and I am the tech coordinator so I do all of the sound, music, and lights that everyone sees,” Sterling said. “It’s so fun, I love all of that stuff. Theater and track are my favorite things and I have gotten to experience a lot of different things in high school that I don’t think I would’ve gotten to do otherwise.”

That meant for the first two weeks of outdoor track this spring, she wasn’t able to make it to practice.

That didn’t stop her from training. Sterling showed up to Mountain Valley High School each morning at 6 a.m. to run hills, or do the workout laid out by her coaches the day before. And every morning on her way to practice, she came face to face with the big, bold “15.94.”

“I try to take my practices as serious as possible so that I get the most out of it,” Sterling said.

Her coaches know that Sterling’s dedication to the sport isn’t coachable.

“She was at the school at 6:30 in the morning doing the workout, and that’s just Lauren in a nutshell,” Curato said. “Since Mountain Valley has been established as a program, we haven’t had a girl of her accolades come through our program.”

Sterling ran a time of 16.20 at the Class C state meet a year ago, a full second ahead of second-place Ayanna Stover of Wiscasset, who is also a senior this year. Sophomore Sophia Santamaria of Traip finished just 1.15 seconds behind Sterling, jumping onto Sterling’s radar quickly.

Coming into this year as the three-time defending MVC 100-meter hurdle champion and two-time defending Class C winner, Sterling knows the target is squarely on her back.

“I think that target will help me more in every competition,” Sterling said. “I think now there’s even more pressure, because it is twice now. I always remember that when I was a freshman, I didn’t even place, and these freshmen are already placing, so I have to keep that in the back of my mind.”

In the fall, Sterling is the Falcons’ soccer goalkeeper and in the winter a Mountain Valley cheerleader. For the past nine years Sterling has also participated in gymnastics, something that she and her track and gymnastics coaches agree contributes to her success on the track.

“Whenever my coaches want to give me an example my coaches always bring it up,” Sterling said. “They say if you’re going to hurdle in gymnastics then you are going to jump like this. They give me different scenarios.”

Sterling is also the anchor leg on the team’s 400-meter relay team, was fifth in the state meet a year ago in the high jump, and according to her coaches will be trying out the long and triple jumps this year.

Most of her time in practice, though, is set aside for hurdles, with an eye on 15.94.

“She’s looking for anything she can to motivate herself because she’s not satisfied with herself,” Taylor said. “She’s looking at rare air here. Once you hit that plateau it comes down to the little things you can work on, so it’s going to come down to her technique over the hurdles, her starts, being able to power over every single one.”

“Once I got the three-step I’ve been soaring since,” Sterling said. “I’m a three-time MVC champion so I want to continue that, and I want to try to three-peat at states. I know I have the support system. I just need to, myself, be mentally there.”

And every night, and every morning, she’ll have a reminder to help her.

Mountain Valley track and field champion Lauren Sterling will try to defend her title again this year. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)