ALBANY -- Hey, Monroe and Bainbridge boys track programs ... want to defend those state and region titles you hold so dear?
Well, it starts today.
The GHSA Region 1-AAA and 1-AAAA track & field finals go off today at Hugh Mills as the defending region -- and state -- champion Monroe boys will be eyeing a repeat.
As for Bainbridge's string of 12 consecutive Region 1-AAAA titles?
Yup, that's on the line, too.
"I don't think there's a sense of urgency, but my guys know the challenge that's ahead of them," said Monroe coach Octavia Jones, who led both the Tornadoes and Lady Tornadoes track & field program to state championships a year ago. "Regardless of the outcome, we just tell them the same thing every day in practice: 'Just do your best -- do what you've been doing all year.' "
The field event finals begin today at 1 p.m., followed by the running finals after that, which will kick off roughly around 4 p.m.
The meet also marks the continuation of a busy week at Hugh Mills after the GISA state meet was held there this past weekend, while the GHSA girls state meet -- all classes -- will begin Thursday and last through Saturday.
It's no secret who will need to step up for the Tornadoes today to ensure they get enough of their athletes qualified for next week's state meet -- again, all classes -- in Jefferson.
Only the Top 2 finishers from today's region championships get to advance.
And Jones, for one, hopes his kids can fill up that list.
"We'll be in the running (for the region title), I think," Jones said. "I think with teams like Westover and Peach also in that mix, it'll be really close. We just need a few things to fall our way."
One thing that has already fallen Monroe's way is the return of two of its brightest stars: Sir Paul Jones and Donquavious Hill, both seniors.
Sir Paul and Hill never actually went anywhere this year, but both have been sidelined, at times, by injury.
"Those nagging little things are behind them," Octavia Jones said Monday. "They're both 100 percent."
For Sir Paul, who has the best time in the state in the 300 hurdles (36.66 seconds), regardless of classification -- and second-best time in the entire country -- today should be a formality. Jones has also qualified for the 110 hurdles and anchors both legs of the 4x100 and 4x400 relays teams.
"The thing that has impressed me the most about Sir Paul this year has been his maturity," Octavia said. "He's really stepped up from last year to this year. The kids look up to him as our leader."
For Hill, it's more of the same. Another one of the Tornadoes' elder statesmen, Hill -- who qualified at the preliminaries in the 200, 400 and both relays last week Thursday at Hugh Mills -- and his points may be as important, if not more, than Sir Paul's.
"We've known what Don was capable of all season and we expected this to be his breakout year," Octavia said. "And we'll be looking for more of the same (today)."
But don't leave Johnny Moore (Class AAA state discus runner-up a year ago), or Larry Bellamy (110, 300 hurdles) or Benjamin Dunaway (400, lead leg of both relays) out of that conversation. The trio has shown improvement all season, Octavia said.
"Sir Paul and Don might lead us," the coach began, "but we need those other guys to put us in position to win here -- and hopefully state next week."
Of course, looking to join Monroe for a stunning 13th straight year in Jefferson will be the Bainbridge boys, who come in as the 12-time defending Region 1-AAAA.
That's right -- 12 times in a row.
"We just need to not beat ourselves," said longtime Bearcats track coach Larry Clark, who now serves as an assistant/advisor to the program. "If we perform like we can, I think we should win it."
That will depend, however, on whether senior star Denzel Gamble, who holds the best distance of anyone in the state, regardless of class, in the triple jump (48-0).
Gamble also qualified for the 110 and 300 hurdles, but will be challenged in his signature event, the triple jump, by teammate Delonte Martistee, who has held the second-best mark (46-9) in the state most of the season.
"Those guys have to come up big again," Clark said. "And I have no doubt they can."
The Bearcats' other Denzel -- Denzel Reynolds -- and teammate Shawn Samuels are both qualified for the 100 and 200, as well as the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.
Speaking of that 4x100 squad -- made up of Reynolds, Samuels, Brandon Hansford and Thomas Smiley -- they enter the region finals today with the fastest time in the state for all classifications with a scorching 41.51.
Check that -- make that the second-fastest time, as of this past weekend.
"Well, the team from Clark Central beat it (just a few days ago) with a time of 41.43," Clark said. "So I guess our goal is now (41.42) -- or better. We haven't had any team really push us in that event all year because once Shawn gets the baton, the race is usually over."
Clark also holds out hope that Dewayne Gurley (discus) can pick up some key points, if not the region championship, while Joseph Ausgood (800 meters) enters today's meet with the fourth best time all of Class AAAA at 1:57.
"He can run better, and we know it," Clark said before adding with a laugh: "We just hope they all do that (today)."