Randy Wyatt has had a full year to think about the heartbreak of finishing as the runner-up in the Class 2A Track and Field Boys State Championships. On Friday, his Blue Tornado squad will have its chance for redemption.
Paducah Tilghman and Mercer County are again the favorites to win the state title, with Mercer winning last year's championship in a meet that came down to the final event and less than a second.
"It's the same as last year -- us and Mercer County," said Tilghman's boys head coach, Wyatt. "They had an unbelievable region and PR'd in seven events. Mercer has to come back and do what they did last week. It could come down to the mile relay again."
As is typical with a Tilghman boys track and field team, sprinters are the strength and key for success. Jayden Freeman and Montel Wiggins have top-three times in the 100-meter dash and Wiggins is also seeded fifth in the 200. Hunter Watkins has the third-best time in the 400 dash heading into state, while Malachi Kirby and Tyrese Jones each posting top-four times in the 110 hurdles.
Other big placers or state champions could come from Wallace McCoy in the shot put, Howard Smith in the triple jump and Travis Myers in the pole vault.
And while thunderstorms are in the forecast, Wyatt is actually hoping for some bad weather.
"I want thunderstorms. I want delays. It will come down to the intangibles, staying focused and everything," he said. "I want the elements to be difficult for everyone. If it happens that way, it will come down to who is the most focused."
A team state championship for Tilghman would be its 30th.
Searching for their 15th state championship and first since 2007 are the Lady Tornado, who are right in the hunt for the ultimate prize.
Valesha Watson won the triple crown of sprint events last year and is seeded in the top three for each of the three races this year. Despite her two second-place seed times and a third spot, Watson's head coach Heather Hamilton expects another standout meet from the sophomore.
"Our region is weaker so therefore we don't have to run as hard to get out of the region," Hamilton said. "Our times are slower but I would put her on the track against anybody. I'm 99 percent sure she will win the triple crown again."
If she's able to do so, Tilghman's girls could be in prime contention for a team title. Also looking to lead Tilghman are hurdler Bran Millikan, triple jump tandem Le China Starks and Jaliyah Biggers, and pole vaulting duo Brianna Wagner and Megan Summers.
Just as the Tilghman boys expect to win state each year, so too do the girls.
"That has been the expectation all year long," Hamilton said of winning state. "We are still young -- I only lose two seniors that are competing -- but we are confident."
Also in the 2A girls meet, Calloway County will look to Haley Glynn in jumping events and Joza Mikulcik in the discus as potential top performers.
The 2A meet will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Friday in Lexington
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Just as Paducah Tilghman is hungry for team titles, the Murray Lady Tigers will be chasing their own success at Saturday's 1A meet.
Last season, the Lady Tigers won in a rout, but it could be a much closer championship this year with them and St. Henry -- which is actually favored, based on regional times and scores.
Perhaps with the most on the line is Murray senior Ann Taylor, who has the top times in the 100, 200 and 400. She hasn't won an individual title in her illustrious Murray career, but will be the favorite to win three on Saturday.
"She is hungry to win all three and she believes she can. It's not easy to pull it off," Murray head coach Mark Boggess said. "I think in the middle of the year and toward the end, we just started looking at the 400 because she was focused on the (100 and 200), but she thought she could run a good 400 and we thought there was an opportunity there for her. She ran it so well and we thought we needed to consider this. We committed to it and took her out of the 4x200."
Fellow seniors Grace Campbell and Sarah McDowell are favored to win events at state as well, with Boggess also looking toward Keagin Brooks, Olivia Butterworth, Hannah Edminster and Jana Forgey for more big points.
After winning it last year, Boggess said it would be a disappointment for his girls if they came home with anything less than a state title.
"They set the bar so high now and they expect to win," Boggess said. "When you expect to win are are still hungry enough to prepare like they do, they'd be disappointed. With the injuries we have had and still not being 100 percent, we have an opportunity to perform better and we see that."
The Murray boys are ranked seventh, but Boggess said they aren't too far behind top five or top-three scores.
Jonathan Hilbrecht in the high jump could lead the way for the Tigers, who could also lean on Treshon Elmore in the triple jump and long jump, Anthony Duffy and Tanner Travis in the sprints and Andrew Pajor in the throws.
"We don't have enough boys in enough events to bring it all home, but we could do enough to bring home a trophy (awarded to first through fourth-place finishers)," he said. "It would be a great accomplishment for everything we lost last year to come back and get top four. That's probably realistically what we would shoot for."
Also in the 1A meet, Mayfield's Trajon Bright is seeded first in the 100 dash and his 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams each have top-three times. Fulton County's Dre Smith will also be searching for a state title in the triple jump, where he has the second-best jump heading into the state championships.
The 1A meet will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
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Several local individuals could be in the hunt for state titles in the Class 3A state championships, including Graves County's eighth-grade phenom Sophie Galloway.
Galloway has the second-best triple jump heading into the meet and is fourth in the long jump. She's also set to race in the fast heat for both the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, where she is seeded seventh in both.
Marshall County's squad is led by Cameron Thurman, who heads into state with the second-best shot put distance in Class 3A.
McCracken County could feasibly place both Maggie Aydt and Maggie Dowdy in the 3200 run, with Quama Jones posting top-eight throws in both the discus and shot put. Jarrett Daniel heads into the meet with the second-best pole vault in 3A at 12-08.00
The Class 3A meet will conclude the Track and Field State Championships and is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.