It took just one warm spring evening for McKenzie Ethridge to race from relative unknown to one of the most talked-about track athletes in Tennessee. As a freshman Ethridge stole the show at last year's Spring Fling state meet by winning the 100- and 200-meter events, then anchoring Signal Mountain's title-winning 4x200 relay.
The plan entering her sophomore season is to retain her titles in the two short sprints and add one in the 400 meters, and possibly one of the sprint relays as well. And the obvious goal is to challenge former Howard star LaQuisha Jackson's state records in the sprint events.
"She has set some pretty high goals for herself and we're encouraging her. because she's certainly got the talent and has trained hard enough to accomplish a lot," Signal Mountain coach Beverly Blackwell said. "She's noticeably stronger in our workouts already. I believe she can take a tenth of a second off her time. We're looking to break 12 seconds in the 100, and by the time she is peaking late this spring, I believe she'll be there."
Ethridge won last year's Class A/AA 100 with a time of 12.14 seconds, the fastest in any girls' classification. Adding the 400, which is one of the most grueling events, will not be easy, but Ethridge has trained year round to be ready. She won't run each of the sprint events at every meet as part of the preparation for the state-qualifying meet late in the season.
Signal Mountain's sprint relays should again be strong as well. Three of the four runners on last year's first-place 4x200 team were freshmen and the other was a sophomore, and the 4x100, which had one of the fastest qualifying times, was made up entirely of freshmen.
The toughest competition for Ethridge in her quest to repeat as the state's fastest girl could come from another local sprinter. Tyner sophomore Vivian Smith has the second-fastest times in the sprint events of all returning females from last year's state meet.
Smith also ran on Tyner's state-championship 4x100 relay and competed in the state pentathlon, making her not only one of the state's fastest runners but one of the top overall track andfield athletes as well.
As the TSSAA track and field season gets under way this week, it could also be a memorable time for Baylor's Selena Popp, who won Division II state titles in the pentathlon, 100 hurdles and high jump last year as a sophomore.
Among the area boys' competitors, McCallie returns much of the talent that helped the Blue Tornado finish second in the overall standings, including 100-meters champ C.J. Fritz and distance runner Ramsay Ritchie, who finished second in the 1600 and 3200 at last year's state meet.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.