CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Her day's work began around 1 in the afternoon, but a little more than six hours later, standing in her warmup suit and cheering on teammates, Baylor senior Selena Popp looked as if she had barely broken a sweat.
One of the area's most versatile track and field athletes, Popp used Friday's Optimist Meet at Walker Valley as a gauge for where she stands heading toward the Spring Fling. Even though she said she really didn't push herself Friday, Popp served notice that she will again be a state contender in several events by winning the 100-meter hurdles and high jump and finishing second in the 300 hurdles and third in the long jump.
"The toughest part is trying to stay loose between events," said Popp, who helped the Lady Red Raiders win the team points title as well. "I had to sit around for about an hour between the 100 hurdles and the high jump and about a half hour between long jump and 100 hurdles, so my legs would tighten up, which made it tough.
"But this is a good way to judge yourself against a lot of really good athletes around the state and see what you need to work on."
There were 38 teams and 569 athletes in Friday's event, and while a dozen area athletes won events, only two besides Popp took home first-place medals in multiple events. McCallie's C.J. Fritz won the boys' 100 and anchored the first-place 4x100 relay, also helping the Blue Tornado win the boys' team title, while Signal Mountain's Chaz Hawkins won the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles.
Both Fritz and Hawkins were state champions last spring, and while Fritz will look to defend his title as the state's fastest prep sprinter, teammate Ramsay Ritchie is working to become the state's top distance runner. He won the 1600 Friday and was third in the 800.
"There are a lot of really good runners from around the state that were here pushing me," said Ritchie, who will try to qualify in all three distance events at the state meet.
All three will be run in the afternoon at this year's Spring Fling, rather than being spread out through the day.
"Having all of those being run late in the day will make it tough for anybody to win all three," Ritchie added, "so my main focus from here out will be on the mile race, because that's my best event and the one I think I have the best shot of winning at state."
Hixson's Kevin Yates and Cleveland's Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad won the long jumps.
Signal Mountain's girls had a strong day, as Mallory Young won the 3200 and was second in the 1600 and McKenzie Ethridge won the 100 and finished a close second in the 200, just five one-hundredths of a second behind Caitland Smith of Pelham, Ala.
"Finishing that close just pushes me even harder to get better," said Ethridge, who won the 100 and 200 at last year's state meet. "I'm just trying to get my times better each week right now and hopefully be in good shape once we start qualifying for state.
"Days like this really help you see where you are against a lot of good runners from all around."
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 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 ...