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PREVIEW: Area stars eye titles at GISA state track meet

Deerfield-Windsor’s Libby Greene shone at last week’s region meet, finishing as the high-point runner-up after winning the long jump, triple jump and the 100-meter hurdles, while also running on two relay teams. Greene leads the Lady Knights into this week’s GISA State Track & Field Championships, which begin today at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Deerfield-Windsor’s Libby Greene shone at last week’s region meet, finishing as the high-point runner-up after winning the long jump, triple jump and the 100-meter hurdles, while also running on two relay teams. Greene leads the Lady Knights into this week’s GISA State Track & Field Championships, which begin today at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — Can they do it again?

Really? Can the Deerfield-Windsor girls track & field team win the state title again?

“Sure,” said Libby Greene. “We can do this.”

“Yes, we can,’’ echoed Tarah Young.

Those were the sentiments after last week’s Region 3-AAA meet in which Young and Greene dominated the field. Young was the high-point girl for the meet and Greene was right behind her.

It’s a 1-2 punch that could lead DWS right back to the top of the podium this weekend at the GISA Class AAA State Track & Field Championships, which start today and run through Saturday at Hugh Mills Stadium.

The state meet includes boys and girls teams from all three classes in what should be one of the most interesting weekends of the year at Hugh Mills, where DWS will try to sweep the boys and girls AAA titles and Westwood’s amazing program will step up to Class AA and try to win two more state titles — this time against bigger schools.

Deerfield made history last year when the girls team won its first state title, and few gave the Lady Knights much of a chance at the beginning of this season to be a threat in the state meet. But here they are, emerging and peaking at just the right time.

“We lost five seniors from that team, and we didn’t know at the beginning of the year. But we have improved a lot this year,’’ DWS girls coach Allen Lowe said.

Lowe then added: “And I think we have a shot. I definitely think we have a shot. A lot of things can happen at a state meet, but we’re going to have a chance.’’

Greene won the long jump, the triple jump and the 100-meter hurdles last week, and Young won the 100, the 200 and was second in the long jump.

There’s more.

Young also anchored both winning relay teams. DWS will have two relay teams in the 4x100 and 4x400. Greene runs on DWS’ No. 2 relay teams as the Lady Knights split the balance to score more points.

There’s plenty of talent and depth — and youth.

Sarah Jones won the pole vault last week. Mary Warrington, a freshman, won the high jump and was third in the 300 hurdles, and Alex Holloway, an eighth-grader, won the 400, while Mary Crisp finished third.

DWS can score in the 800. Virginia Moore, who was second in the 1,600 at the region meet, won the 800 last week, and Lindsay Lewis, an eighth-grader, finished right behind her. Samantha James was third in the 100 and second behind Young in the 200.

“We have a chance to score points in a lot of places,’’ Lowe said. “Some of our younger girls have really stepped up this year.’’

The DWS boys haven’t won a state title since the Tony Zenon days in 2009, but coach Craig Rhodes believes this year’s group can make a run at the title. Rhodes preaches team, team, team, and his kids believe in him and each other. That may be Deerfield’s best weapon — the fact the Knights can stack up points from all over the track.

“We have quality athletes who can score at the state meet,’’ Rhodes said. “And we have a lot of people who have worked hard to make this team successful. We talk about team in everything we do. Individual awards are great, but they don’t put a banner on the wall. It’s all about the team. They want a ring.’’

Kh’Ron McClain was the high-point winner at last week’s region meet after he won the 100, 200 and the triple jump and anchored both winning relay teams, while Jay Barber, who won the long jump and finished second to McClain in the 100 and 200, was right behind him in total points. Barber also ran on both winning relay teams. Those two will lead the way, but DWS has plenty of depth to pile up points.

Jason Battle and Chap Ivey went 1-3 in the high jump, and Ivey was second to McClain in the triple jump. Matthew Fox and Nick Michas went 1-2 in the discus, and Arron McNutt and Dallas Margeson went 1-2 in the 110 hurdles. Margeson was second in the 300 hurdles, and McNutt was third. Chris Boswell and Dee Barber went 1-2 in the 400, and Marcus Guthro won the 800 and finished third in the 3,200. Alex Miller and Will Calhoun went 2-3 in the pole vault.

WILDCATS ON THE PROWL — AGAIN: Westwood’s legendary track & field coach Earl Ford just doesn’t know what will happen at the state meet. His teams have been the powerhouses of Class A for years, but the move to Class AA will be a huge test for Westwood.

Just don’t be surprised if both the boys and girls come home with state titles.

“I just don’t know what’s out there,’’ Ford said. “I know we’re in AA and I know the individuals will be better and the teams will be much, much better, but I don’t know enough about what the other teams have in AA. There will be five or six really good teams, and we’ve never run against any of them.

“But I know this: We’ve reached our goal this year and that is to get better each week. And I know our kids will compete. We’ve got a good team. Are we good enough to win state? That’s hard to say.’’

Westwood’s girls are not only back-to-back defending state champs, but the Lady Wildcats have won four of the last five state titles and six of the last eight. The boys have finished either first or second in the state meet the last four years and may have a better chance at a title this weekend than the girls.

“I would say the boys have the biggest upside,’’ Ford said. “They were very upset the way the football season ended (when they lost in the state title game). They have worked hard and have been really focused, and that has helped them in track. They are in better shape, and they are real focused.’’

Ford’s Wildcats can score at state, and depending how the points fall, they could be in the hunt in the finals Saturday.

J.T. Edore, arguably the best running back in AA, will have a chance in the 100 and the long jump, and he also runs on both relay teams. Brody Collins, who was a star at last year’s state meet, is back to try to win the high jump, the triple jump and the 800. His brother, Ridge Collins, a sophomore, can get Westwood points in the 110 hurdles, the triple jump and the high jump, and Dylan Smith (100 and pole vault) can also rack up points. Ford is high on freshman Collin Baggett, who will try to win the 300 hurdles, the long jump and the 400. And Jamie Davis, an All-State linebacker, will lead the way Friday when the field event finals are held. Davis will be a force in both the shot put and the discus.

“Jamie is poised to have a great weekend,’’ Ford said. “He’s one of those football guys who knows how to compete. All these guys are football guys who compete. Other than a real good AAA team, I wouldn’t want to have to run against this team.’’

Westwood’s girls scored an unheard of 225 points last year and at times it felt like Miller Singleton, who was the high-point girl in the region meet, scored about half of them herself. She has since graduated, but Ford knows the points will be split up in the AA meet and that his kids have a real chance.

Perra Harrell, a freshman who won the AA cross country title last fall, will be running in the 1,600, 3,200 and 800, and now that she isn’t playing tennis and can focus solely on track, Ford expects a big weekend from Harrell.

Her sister, Rachel, will compete in the long jump and triple jump, while Singleton’s sister, Morgan, will try to win the high jump. Those three girls helped lead Westwood to the AA state basketball title and — along with the rest of that squad — played an inspired brand of basketball in the Final Four.

Ford said he appreciated that basketball team and the competitive spirit they bring to the track program. Ivy Foister, who was a big part of that state title basketball team, will be a force this weekend in the shot put and discus along with Hannah Hinesly and Erin Burnett. Savannah Jones can pile up points in three events — the 100 hurdles, the 300 hurdles and the triple jump — and Claire Collins can score in the 3,200.

Westwood will need to jump out early in the field in both the boys and girls meets.

“We need to have a great day in the field events (on Friday) to even matter on Saturday,’’ Ford said. “I think we can have that day.

“We’re definitely the underdogs. It’s little Westwood against these bigger schools, but we’re proud of our school and proud to be from Camilla. It’s country-come-to-town when we go up against these bigger schools. But we think we will do well, and it wouldn’t surprise me that at the end of the day on Saturday we don’t have a chance to win it.’’