ALBANY --- A funny thing happens to girls track teams that want to win a Class AAA state title -- they stop over at the Westover Relays.
It's not just a tune-up, it has almost become a dress rehearsal for the girls teams that win the annual event.
After all, five of the six Westover Relays winners have gone on to win the state title.
Of course, that includes the Monroe girls, who won it all last year and will be big favorites when 15 girls teams -- along with 15 boys teams -- from across Georgia meet at Hugh Mills Stadium today and tonight in the 7th annual Westover Relays.
It's not just a significant meet, it's a massive measuring stick.
"The region meet is next week, so we have to get ready,'' said Monroe's Alanesha McFarland, a sophomore who runs the 100-meter dash and is also on the 4x100 relay team. "We need to do what we have to do this week to get ready for state.''
This meet may be even more important for Monroe's boys track team, which will also try to defend the state title next month it won alongside the girls a year ago.
"At this point in the season, there's no gambling, no changing things. You're going for it,'' said Monroe senior Donquavious Hill, who has run Class AAA's fastest time (48.66) in the 400 meters in Georgia this year.
Hill then added: "We want to set the tone for the region and the state meet.''
Hill, who also runs the 200 meters and is on both relay teams, is one of the reasons Monroe won the boys Class AAA title last year, and why the Tornadoes feel they have a chance to repeat.
But Monroe won't be favored today. Neighboring Bainbridge is everyone's frontrunner to win the boys meet.
"We've seen them in five meets, and they have finished ahead of us in five meets,'' Monroe boys and girls track coach Octavia Jones said. "But they're in a different classification, so we won't see them at state.''
Bainbridge is a quality program once again this year. The Bearcats' 4x100 relay team (Denzel Reynolds, Shawn Samuels, Brandon Handsford and Thomas Smiley) has the fastest time (41.51) in Georgia this spring, and Delonte Martistee, who is strong in the high jump (6-4), and triple jump (46-9), was named the MVP of the field events in the Smith and Benson Relays.
"Monroe has really top quality people, but we've got good people across the board, and that's why we've been able to beat them,'' said longtime track coach Larry Clark, who is now an assistant at Bainbridge. "We've got a lot of depth, but for us to beat them we have to do well in the field events and the hurdles.''
Bainbridge is in Class AAAA, but the Monroe kids don't worry about who is on the track anyway. For the most part, they're running against the clock.
"Every time I walk on the track I'm out to bust the clock,'' said Sir Paul Jones, who is the defending state champ in both the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles.
And, boy, has he beaten up the clock this season. Sir Paul has run the second-fastest time in the nation (36.66) in the 300 hurdles and his 14.08 in the 110 high hurdles is tied for the fastest time in Georgia.
Sir Paul, who is being recruited by all the top collegiate track programs in the nation, also anchors both of Monroe's relay teams.
"I told him at the beginning of the year that he would be running against the clock for most of the season,'' Octavia said.
The girls teams, meanwhile, will be running against history.
"The girls team that wins this usually goes on to win the state title. Monroe won it last year, Carrollton won it three times and Westover won it the first year,'' said Westover track coach Harvey Calhoun, whose boys team won the relays last year.
Westover's boys lost too much speed to contend for this year's title, but Calhoun feels both squads can finish in the top five tonight in a meet that was twice as big last year with 30 boys and girls teams each attending.
"We finished too late last year, so we tried to keep it to 15 (teams) on each side," said Calhoun, who added he remains proud of the event in its seventh year -- one of the only in Georgia to run its finals under the lights at night. "We actually had to turn a few teams away this time."
Westover's girls are led by Ericka Taylor (1,600, and 3,200), Clennysha Jones (high jump), Tiffany Harris (discus), Ardrianna Taylor (discus), and Alysia Potts (pole vault).
Westover's boys are led by Derrick Akins (discus), Dontevious Ousley (discus), Cole Kaster (1,600, 3,200), Greg Thorne (1,600, 3,200), and Dolphurs Hayes (pole vault).
Monroe's girls, however, could very well run away with the meet. Lakeisha Jackson, who won the state title in the 100 hurdles and was third in the 300 hurdles last year, also runs on both relay teams. Mimieux Land won the high jump state title and has the best high jump mark in Georgia this season (5-8) -- regardless of class. Land will compete in the triple jump and long jump.
She has also run on Monroe's 4x100 relay team, but will probably concentrate on the jumping events as the region and state meet approach.
"We're just trying to get ready for the region and state. We've got more individuals to score points at the state meet than we had last year,'' Jackson said. "As long as we stay together as a team, everything will be OK.''
The meet itself, which begins at 4 p.m. and likely will be over by 10 p.m., should attract a huge crowd.
"We're pretty much the only night meet south of Macon,'' Calhoun said. "We try to use it as a prelude to the region and state meets. It's the last chance to get ready. We're looking to showcase some of the best talent south of Macon.''