Girls' Teams To Watch
GPS: The Bruisers return most of last year's state runner-up team that had six second-place finishers and one state champion.
Baylor: While they're short on experience, the Lady Red Raiders have won the last four state titles.
Howard: Led by LaQuisha Jackson, who may also compete in the pentathlon, the team is deep on sprinters and relay runners.
Boys' Teams To Watch
Bradley Central: The Bears return all but one of last year's team that won every it entered until the state round, including jumper James Stovall, hurdler Justin Houston and sprinter/hurdler Rue Goldston.
Baylor: The Red Raiders have a strong group of middle distance runners, led by Simon Holden, as well as relay teams, sprinter George Porter and overall athlete Matthew Oellerich.
McCallie: Iman Isang is one of the top hurdlers in Division II, while sophomores Matthew Jones and Ramsey Ritchie should establish themselves among the top distance runners this season.
Girls' Athletes To Watch
LaQuisha Jackson, Howard: She should add to her nine state titles and possibly break the two state-record times she holds.
Tory Kemp, GPS: She is a state favorite in five events, including the pentathlon.
Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad, Cleveland: She won last year's Class AAA state title in the long jump and finished fourth in the 100.
Boys' Athletes To Watch
Simon Holden, Baylor: The junior is a state favorite in the Division II 800, 1600 and 3200 distance runs.
James Stovall, Bradley Central: Aside from being one of the area's top high jumpers and triple jumpers, he likely will compete in the decathlon at the state level.
Kameno Watson, Red Bank: He is the fastest returning local sprinter.
"Ladies first" isn't just a phrase for Southern chivalry. In the Chattanooga area it's also the theme for the high school track and field season.
Led by Howard sprinter LaQuisha Jackson and GPS athlete Tory Kemp, the area boasts a deep pool of talented track athletes expected to challenge for state titles when the Spring Fling rolls around.
Of the 16 state championships won by area track and field athletes last season, 13 were claimed by female competitors, and many of those girls are back this spring. Both Kemp and Jackson likely will compete in the state-limit five events, including pentathlon, this season.
Kemp has been a qualifier for the state meet since her eighth-grade year and has won or finished second in eight events at the state meet the last two years.
Last spring she won the Division II state title in the triple jump and was second in both the 100-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles. The girl who won both of those events, Knoxville Webb's Marjorie Butler, is out this spring with a knee injury, making Kemp the state favorite in at least three events.
"She's so valuable to us as a leader and because she is so versatile that we know we can use her in just about any event," GPS coach Stacey Hill said. "She will probably compete in five events for us at the state meet, including the pentathlon, so she could score half our team points. If she stays healthy, she has a shot at winning five state titles, which is amazing."
Kemp recently signed with North Carolina, where Hill believes she will thrive once the three-sport starter since her freshman year concentrates solely on track. She started on GPS's two-time state-champion basketball team as well as for the volleyball squad.
Jackson, who signed with San Diego State, owns state-record times in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and has won nine Class A/AA state championships.
The collection of potential girls' state qualifiers would have been even more impressive had Howard junior Nuqeilla Robinson not torn an ACL during basketball season. Robinson finished second in the 200 at last year's state meet and was on both state-qualifying sprint relays.
"LaQuisha is the best sprinter we've seen from this area, and Tory Kemp might be the best overall girls' track athlete to ever come through Chattanooga," said Baylor coach Bill McMahan, who has directed his girls' program to four consecutive state titles. "Tory will compete in five events, and I guarantee she could win several others. They're both just unbelievable to watch.
"Our team lost a ton from last year. I watched 91 points walk across the stage during graduation last year, so this is GPS's year when you look at all they have coming back."
The Baylor girls will be led by Paige Elliott, who has been a part of six state championship relay teams. Aside from Kemp, GPS also returns one of the state's premier athletes in the discus and shot, Simone Busby, who finished second in both events at last year's state meet. And this could be the breakout year for Bruisers junior sprinter Destinee Lansden, who will run in the 100, 200, 400 and could be used in either of the sprint relays.
"We have depth and experience, so the key for us will be staying healthy," Hill said.