Greater Atlanta Christian's girls track and field team rode the success of three athletes on its way to the Class AA state championship last season.
All three return for the state meet, which begins today in Albany, but expectations will be different this time around. The Spartans are among the favorites to contend for the title along with Region 6-AA foes Westminster and Avondale and 2008 champion North Oconee.
"Last year we finished third in the region. I don't know if we had as many expectations," GAC coach Brad Kinser said. "This year people are looking at you and maybe they are looking at you as the favorite."
The Spartans are coming off last week's Region 6-AA championship thanks to Jessica Tuggle, Claire Goodson and Lauren Kester. All three won state championships last season and are among the leaders to contend for titles again.
Tuggle won the triple jump last season and was runner-up in the long jump and 100 hurdles. She's also a member of the 400 relay team, making her the Spartans' biggest potential point scorer.
"Obviously, being in four events and she's such a competitor, I'm never surprised how she competes," Kinser said.
Goodson is the defending pole vault state champion and her mark of 11 feet, 101/2 inches is the second-best in the state in any classification. She's also the anchor on the 400 relay team.
Kester is the defending 3,200-meter state champ and her time of 11 minutes, 28.46 seconds is the third-best in AA this season.
Brittany Arnold (100, 400 relay), Danielle Moss (shot put), Kayin Mujahid (400 relay), Malika Slayton (400 relay) and Morgan McKnight (400 relay) also qualified for the state meet for the Spartans.
"Oh yeah, we're in eight events. I've been trying to figure out points and we'll be in the hunt and that's fun," Kinser said. "You can figure out as much as you want on paper, but you never know once you get there."
In the Class AAAAA meet, several Gwinnett County athletes will be in contention for state titles. Collins Hill's Nicky Akande was runner-up in the 800 and 1,600 runs last season after winning the 800 in 2008. The Villanova signee has the top times in both events in Class AAAAA this season.
Taren White has been among the state's top sprinters the last three years, but has yet to win a state title. The Grayson senior has the second-best time in the 400 and 200 events.
Brookwood's Emily Brewer is the reigning state champion in the discus and will have tough competition to defend her title, including Parkview's Emily Chosewood.
The Panthers have another title contender in Alexis Jones-Hardy in the long jump and Mill Creek's Carson Simpson has one of the top pole vaults in the state at 11-6.