Walking out for the final at the South-Central League championships was Pueblo County High School girls swimming standout Kandi Liberato.

While other girls smiled, gave out some high fives and looked around the pool, Liberato kept her head down focused on the task ahead.

And it's that same laser focus that has made the junior an integral part in the Hornets shot at a Class 3A state title today at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton.

"Kandi is one of those top swimmers who swims in the summer and trains in the IM and trains in all of the events," Pueblo County coach Dan Radiff said. "The advantage is that I look at the team we're going to go against and that's who Kandi is going to swim.

"She usually handles them and that's a big bonus for us."

In Liberato's eyes, the routine isn't set in stone like her face might show when focused on her event.

Instead, it's more about the feeling she has from the day or where her team is currently at in the meet that leads to how she approaches her swim.

"It really depends on how my day is going," Liberato said. "If I'm in that zone sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad and I can psych myself out."

Whatever feeling Liberato has, the young Hornets usually fall in behind the junior.

With 41 girls out for the team this season and many being underclassmen, Liberato has been looked to all season to help guide them.

Now heading to the state finals with many of the youngsters around her, Liberato has enjoyed getting to see their growth.

"It's been really fun watching everyone grow," Liberato said. "My sister (Scarlett) is on the team, too, and watching her grow is really cool for me because I can see the new generation coming up."

Last season at state, Liberato helped the Hornets win the state title in the 200-yard medley as a sophomore.

This season, the junior had the No. 2 seed time for the 100-yard backstroke, No. 3 in the 200-yard IM and has helped get the Hornets into top times in all three relay events heading into state.

Having someone who can help in all areas is something that's made Radiff's job a bit easier.

"Kandi is going to do what she does best at the state meet, not because of what we need it for, it's because of what we have to have from her," Radiff said. 

With that type of impact on the team, it's easy to see that the Hornets will go how Liberato goes, especially since she's the first one in the pool at events swimming the backstroke of the 200-medley relay.

"What is so great about our team is that she always leads off the first event, the first person (in the pool)," Radiff said. "I get it in the girls' head that we're deadly in the medley, I saw it every time ... And (Liberato) just pops into the water and explodes and I don't care what 5A we've gone against this year, she's been first to the wall."

Added Pueblo County junior Rachel Paolucci: "It's like the domino effect. Once one person does good, then it carries on."

It isn't all business for Liberato as fellow junior in Paolucci described.

The two have known each other nearly their whole lives and Paolucci has seen the type of personality Liberato has out of the pool.

"(Liberato) is always fun to be around," Paolucci said. "Bus rides we're all singing and she's always one of the loudest ones. We just have a lot of fun."

Pueblo County entered state ranked seventh in Class 3A after being ranked No. 2 for a large portion of the season.

Despite the uphill battle, Liberato is ready to bring a fight to the top teams and try to surprise some folks.

And she'll have an army around her to help.

"She's just Kandi and Kandi is fine with me," Radiff said. "She's a very nice girl, quiet, loud and I've learned all about her.

"She is the right Kandi at the right time"

Chieftain sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at awhite@chieftain.com or on Twitter @ajw_sports.