Some teams have already begun their seasons, but usually one of the first benchmark meets is the Hardin Valley Invite, which is scheduled for next weekend.
From there, the season will truly be in full swing.
The following is a brief look at the large-schools division in section 1.
Samford signee Jeb Jones is expected to crank out big points for the Hilltoppers this spring, following a fifth-place finish at state in cross country and an all-state placing in the 1,600 meters last spring. Jones has some incredible range and is the returning conference champion in the distance “triple crown” of the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
“It’s awesome to have a leader like Jeb at the head of the program, being one of the only seniors,” Science Hill head coach Anthony Jones said. “He goes out there and really believes that he can run with anyone. He sets his goals very high and he goes out there and attacks them. I honestly see a lot of my younger self in Jeb, except I was more quiet. The overall chemistry of the whole team is great and Jeb’s leadership qualities have trickled down to the others like Ray and Aaron.”
The Hilltoppers won the indoor state distance medley relay crown in late February, but are hungry for a run in the 4x800 relay this spring. Aaron Jones and Ray Richardson will also be key contributors for Science Hill in the distance events.
Standout hurdler T.J. Patton is now at Catawba, but the Science Hill sprint squad will still have a strong presence in the hurdles, led by senior Connor Morgan.
Morgan was second last year in the 110 hurdles with a time of 15.66, but was on the outside looking in at sectionals. He finished sixth and did not qualify for state.
In the field, senior East Tennessee State football signee Blake Austin will be the man to keep an eye on in the shot put. Furthermore, senior Devon Hull is coming out this year for track and will be throwing shot put along with Austin.
Yale signee senior Jeamy Williams is the returning conference champion in the 100, 200 and 400 meters — and has already thrown down a 50.44 in the quarter mile on March 14 at home.
“As much success as he’s had and as good as he is, I don’t think people really realize how good he really is,” D-B coach Bob Bingham said. “We’re looking for him to have a true breakout season. … He got fifth and sixth last year in the 100 and 400 with a stress fracture in his hip.”
The field events will be heavily relied upon for the Tribe as well with the likes of high jumper and Wofford signee Tanner Henry and Sam Cleek. Both have cleared over six feet so far and Cleek also has a 12-6 personal best in the pole vault.
An emerging talent for D-B is that of freshman Riley Wagner, who is the third D-B high jumper to clear six feet already this season.
“Our bread and butter over the past decade has been the 4x400 relay and we have some good legs this year with Jeamy, Aziz Dunn and Kinden Reyes,” Bingham said. “We’ve got some other guys competing for that last spot, but the freshman Bryson Gilliam is looking good right now.”
Richmond football signee Cade Salyers will be a force in the shot put, already throwing 43-5 in the shot put and 132-5 in the discus. Junior Cade Page has come a long way, according to Bingham, and will pick up some solid points behind Salyers.
Dunn will also be an asset in the field for the Tribe, as he is the defending conference champion in the long jump.
Usually when talking about the Trailblazers, the distance squad always comes to mind. However, headlined this year by two standout field athletes in thrower Jeremiah Sullivan and vaulter Devin Mckenna, Boone will look to break up some of the points.
Sullivan, a two-time champion in the indoor 25-pound weight throw, has vastly improved from last year in the shot put, already throwing a two-foot personal best in the outdoor season.
“Jeremiah is usually pretty good in the discus, but he placed in the shot put in indoors, so that was a good sign,” said Boone coach Len Jeffers. “The weight throw is more the throwing style of the discus, so that’s why he’s done so well in that.”
The distance runners will be counted on heavily and feature Matt Huff, Max Austin and Keaton Smith. With those three and an additional leg, the Trailblazers’ 4x800 relay team will be one to be dealt with again this spring.
On the sprints side, Ray Simmons will be looked to deliver in some of the shorter sprints.
Seth Banchetto will be a contributor in the long jump (personal-best 19-8) and freshman Eli Penix is coming along training with Sullivan in both the shot put and discus, according to Jeffers.
On the distance side, Cherokee’s Austin Kirkpatrick looks to make some noise in either the 1,600 or 3,200 and as will David Crockett’s Hank Lowe.
Freshman defending cross country state champion and Foot Locker All-American Jenna Hutchins is among the stars for a youthful Science Hill track team that has a very promising future. She will mainly be focusing on the 1,600- and 800-meter races and will also be a part of a 4x800 relay team that has a chance to go to the state meet.
“We’re still about a year or two away from being really good, but our future is very bright,” Jones said.
Mary Reed was the freshman sprints sensation last spring for the Lady ’Toppers, winning both the 100 and 200 races at the Big Seven conference meet. She also made huge strides toward the end of the season and finished eighth and all-state in the long jump, beating her previous personal best by almost two feet in the span of three weeks.
Senior Katy Neubert had a solid indoor season, finishing eighth in the 800 in 2:19.84, which isn’t far off from her outdoor personal best of 2:18.95. She, along with Hutchins, will be two of the key legs on a 4x800 relay team that will be battling with D-B for the conference title.
Junior distance star Sasha Neglia had something with her up front that was a little bit out of the ordinary this past fall in cross country — company.
She will have it again this spring when she and Hutchins meet, creating an almost-assuredly instant classic for a race. The Nike All-American and two-time state cross country champion will run a variety of distance races this spring, ranging from the 800 to the 3,200.
However, juniors Emma Russum and Gracie Allen provide some extra points in the distance events behind the two frontrunners. Russum has established herself as possibly the third best runner in the area. That testament is provided by finishing third at the regional cross country meet and being the only other District 1 runner to make the all-state team by finishing 12th.
“Emma’s made herself into a really, really good runner,” Bingham said. “She’s healthy and running well. If we qualify in the 4x800, that means she’s running a pretty good leg.”
The 4x100 relay that made the state meet last year has three returning legs in Natalie Bates, Kiley Wood and Aubree Heneger. The fourth leg has yet to be determined, but Bingham said that freshman Injoi Bristol has been looking good recently.
In the field events, volleyball standout Hannah Watson brings a 5-2 personal best to the high jump and aspires to contend for a spot to state. Basketball and volleyball standout Courtney Whitson will provide a big boost in both he shot put and discus.
Three legs of last year’s all-state, third-place 4x800 relay team return for Boone in Judy and Patricia Chellah, and Marley McCoy.
Katie Cutshall finished third last year in the state in pole vault with a leap of 10 feet and will be viewed as more than just a field athlete this spring.
“Katie’s main focus is still going to be pole vault, but she’ll help us out on some relay teams and in the 200,” Jeffers said.
The distance squad figures to be getting points behind Alana Cloud, Grace Sheldon and Erin Bruce. The sprints may not be quite as strong as in years past, but Jeffers has high praise for incoming freshman Taylor Dixon, who was second in the state for the 100 last spring in middle school.
Arguably the best field athlete in Northeast Tennessee returns this year and she’s only a sophomore. Sullivan South’s Madison Cowan made all-state last spring in high jump, long jump and triple jump — with personal bests in each event coming in Murfreesboro.
The talented Lady Rebels star also has some speed on the track as well with a 13.64 in the 100, 17.58 in the 100 hurdles and 29.66 in the 200.
Taylor Roy and Rachel Dulaney, the distance one-two punch from David Crockett, is hunting state spots like they did in cross country.
Harper Russell of Cherokee is a threat to go to state in the 800 this spring as she has barely missed it the last two years. The Lady Chiefs basketball star tasted what it feels like to get to state for the first time this past fall, making it to Nashville as an individual in cross country.
Volunteer sophomore Ashley Salyers, who finished seventh last spring in the triple jump at state, already has laid down solid times for the 100 and 200. Replacing star hurdler Whitney Christian will be tough, but the Lady Falcons definitely have another athlete coming through the ranks in Church Hill.