Aside from the state meet, today's annual Optimist Track Meet is arguably the most prestigious track and field competition each year for area teams. It's also one of the oldest meets, and it's big in numbers.
More than 525 athletes and 36 teams from two states will compete at Walker Valley High School, beginning at 4 p.m.
"It's the most teams we've had compete in quite a while," Walker Valley coach Jasen Parks said. "Most every team from the area, Tennessee and Georgia, will be here, and several teams from Knoxville or outside the area will be here, too.
"We set minimum marks this year, so kids had to meet a certain time or distance this season just to qualify. That's going to ensure some really good and close events. We've set it up so that we'll have field events and running events going at the same time, so there will always be an opportunity to watch some action without any down time. There are a lot of quality athletes at this meet -- quite a few future state champions."
With the postseason rapidly approaching, this is the last opportunity for many of the area's top track athletes to measure themselves against top-level competition. It also allows athletes from every classification to compete against each other, something that won't happen once they begin qualifying in the postseason.
"One of the really neat things about this event every year is that it allows kids from Class A/AA or AAA or Division II to compete head-to-head against each other. That also brings out the best in them," Parks said.
Some of the most competitive events for athletes from different classifications could involve weight throwers Julian Nunally of McCallie and Marcus Franklin of LaVergne. Franklin leads qualifiers in the discus with a throw of 181 feet, 4 inches, while Nunally is the next closest with a throw of 162-10. Nunally has the top shot put distance, 53-4, with Franklin close behind at 48-5.
Baylor's Simon Holden, who won state titles in the 800, 1600 and 3200 meters last season likely will be tested by Maryville's Matthew Warriner, an East Tennessee State University signee who narrowly has a better qualifying time in the 800. And the pack running the 3200 is even closer in qualifying, with Collegedale's Seth Rhuling and McCallie's Derek Barnes and Matthew Jones all with close season-best times.
In the girls' distance events, McMinn County's Haley Ward, an Ole Miss signee, will look to defend her Optimist title as a warmup in preparing to defend her Class AAA state title as well. Ward will be pushed in the 1600 by Siegel's Nicole Gardner. Both also won cross country state titles in their respective classifications last fall.
Among the meet's top sprinters will be GPS's Destinee Lansden, a Memphis signee who won the 100 and 400 and finished second in the 200 at last weekend's Mid-South Classic at McCallie. Lansden also helped the Bruisers' sprint relay team take first place. Her season-best time is just short of Red Bank freshman Elexis Foster, who has the top area time this season.
Also, Cleveland sisters Atarah and Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad will be favorites in several individual and team sprint events.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...