3 male athletes to watch
1. Simon Holden (Baylor): The senior won state titles in the 3200, 1600 and 800 meters last season, becoming only the second local runner to accomplish that feat.
2. Allante Novene (Hixson): He ran the second leg of the A/AA state-title 4x400 relay and the state-qualifying 4x200 last year.
3. Patrick Taylor (CSAS): He finished second in the A/AA state long jump and was one of the area's top sprinters last season.
3 female athletes to watch
1. Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad (Cleveland): Only a junior, she finished third in the AAA pentathlon and competed in the state 100 meters, 100 hurdles and 4x100 relay.
2. Destinee Lansden (GPS): Now a senior, she won the Division II 100 and 400 meters and was fourth in the 200 for the state runners-up.
3. Chancis Jones (Central): She won the state triple jump, finished second in the long jump and helped the sprint relay teams qualify for the state meet last year.
The pieces are in place for a potential historic season in girls' track for the Chattanooga area.
No area girls' team has won a state championship in Tennessee's largest classification, but Cleveland could change all that at this year's Spring Fling. The Lady Blue Raiders, who finished ninth at last year's state meet, return every major contributor from that team, are deep in talent in several events and have two of the area's most versatile athletes in sisters Atarah and Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad.
Atarah, a senior who has signed with Middle Tennessee State, set a school record in the triple jump last year at 35 feet, 11.25 inches, competed in the state long jump and was part of the record-setting 4x100 relay. This season she also will compete in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, high jump and pentathlon.
Qetuwrah, a junior, finished third in last year's state pentathlon and competed in the state 100, 100 hurdles and 4x100 relay. She likely will add the 300 hurdles and each of the jumping events during the season before coach Casey Price narrows the events she and her sister will concentrate on going into the state meet. Competitors are allowed to qualify in only four events, plus the pentathlon.
"Having athletes who are that versatile is very important for any team to have a chance at winning the state meet," Price said. "We know Qetuwrah and Atarah can score in several events, so we can move them around and give other girls a chance to compete in the events they're best at. Qetuwrah could score 30-40 points by herself because she's just that kind of special athlete. And Atarah should be right there in points, too.
"The biggest key for us is that we have so much depth in a lot of events now. We should score in the field events, the sprints, the hurdles and the distance events, and we'll probably have three girls that can score in the pentathlon."
Atarah's and Qetuwrah's mother, Ursula Langford, held several school records at Cleveland and also later ran for MTSU. Their first cousin, Marissa Langford, is a junior who also will be counted on to score in multiple events, including the pentathlon, 400, high jump and 4x400 relay.
Senior Beka Day will compete in all the distance events, including relays, and sophomore Hallea McClendon could become one of the area's top throwers in the discus and shot put. Her brother Henry was an all-district football player at Cleveland, and during offseason weight training, Hallea squatted 420 pounds. At one recent practice she threw the shot 36 feet, which would have been good enough to qualify for last year's state meet.
"She's still learning how to throw because she's new to it," Price said. "But she's incredibly strong, and I think by the time we're qualifying for the state meet, she should be really good.
"Beka is one of the best distance runners around, but that's a loaded field with Haley Ward (McMinn County) and Nicole Gardner (Signal Mountain) in our section. We've still got a few gaps in our lineup, but hopefully as the season goes we'll have those spots filled. It's exciting because there's a lot of potential for this team to do big things."
In Division II, GPS again returns plenty of talent from last year's state runners-up, led by Memphis signee Destinee Lansden, a senior won state titles in the 100 and 400 and was fourth in the 200. The Bruisers, who also return versatile seniors Jaleesa Poindexter and Tiana Mills, won every meet in which they competed during the regular season and qualified 18 girls for the D-II state meet. Seven girls claimed seven first-place finishes, and the Bruisers were state runners-up for a third straight year.
In boys' track, Baylor distance runner Simon Holden is back to defend his D-II state titles in the 3200, 1600 and 800, while McCallie's Julian Nunally will try to defend his title in the discus and improve on a third-place state finish in the shot put.
Hixson's Allante Novene and Kevin Yates should rank among the area's top sprinters again. Novene and Yates also helped the Wildcats' 4x400 relay team win a state title and the 4x200 qualify for the state meet.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 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 seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...