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County track meet good indicator for state

The boys track and field state meet isn't for another two months, but we'll get a pretty good idea of who will contend for the title this weekend.

The Gwinnett County track and field championship is at Mill Creek on Saturday and Monday. The top four teams at last year's meet finished as the top four at state, making it a good indication of what's to come later in the season.

"I think it is, definitely," Brookwood coach Mark Kelley said. "The county is full of great competition. It's a good indication, especially with the sectional later this year. You don't know how many kids you can qualify for state."

Brookwood is the defending county champions and finished fourth at last year's state meet. The Broncos have won six of the last nine county titles, while Parkview won three in a row from 2008-10.

"They are pretty strong," Peachtree Ridge coach Ron Clanton said. "They are very well-coached and Mill Creek is always strong, too. The first couple of teams at county will have an impact at state. Gwinnett will be well represented at the state meet."

Peachtree Ridge was fourth at last year's county meet, but finished the season as state champs.

"We won the state championship, but most of the crowd is gone," Clanton said.

The Lions return state champions Matt Morris (pole vault) and Josh Brickell (1,600 and 3,200), while sophomore Kevin Mills (1,600 and 3,200) has come on strong in recent weeks.

However, it will be tough for the Lions to take down a Brookwood team that appears to be loaded across the track and infield. The Broncos won the Eagle Icebreaker and the Jerry Arnold Challenge this season.

"I think we have a pretty good chance," Kelley said.

The Broncos are the three-time defending state champions in cross country and are loaded in the distance events. Morgan Malanoski has one of the state's top times in the 3,200 and Matt Baurdin has also been strong.

The addition of Shiloh transfer Justin Martin, who was fourth at state in the 400, and South Gwinnett transfer Derwyn Tate, who was fourth at county in the 400, have bolstered the lineup.

Justin Grose (pole vault), Bailey Vitatoe (high jump) and Robin Ji (discus) have shined in the field events.

"Our distance is pretty solid, the relays are better than last year and we got some speed in the 400 and 200," Kelley said.

In the girls meet, Peachtree Ridge is the defending county champions and the Lions appear to have a strong enough team to defend their title.

"We're pretty balanced and usually it takes a team with a good field, distance and sprinter," Clanton said. "So far we've been able to do it in those events. We'll be in the run for it."

Collins Hill won eight-straight county titles before being dethroned by Parkview in 2010. Both teams will challenge Peachtree Ridge this season.

"You always have Brookwood, Parkview is always prepared and Norcross is really improved," Clanton said. "Collins Hill and Mill Creek are pretty strong, too, so you have about half a dozen teams in the mix.

Peachtree Ridge is the early season favorite at county after winning the Fridge Invitational and the Jerry Arnold Challenge.

The Lions feature Lauren Kelly, who took fourth at state last year, and has the state's top time in Class AAAAA in the 1,600. Her time of 5 minutes, 6.8 seconds is a school record.

Sonikqua Walters was a county champion as a freshman, but was derailed by injuries last year. The senior appears back in her prime with the state's fastest time in the 400 of 55.50 seconds.

Autumnn Burnett is the defending county champion in the 100 and 300 hurdles, while Kendra Turifoye (hurdler, triple jump), Madison Sears (discus), Stephanie Amicha (shot put and discus) and Jasmin Johnson (high jump) have stood out the season.

Sears' older brother Carson was a county champ in 2010 and Johnson is the daughter of former Atlanta Falcon Billy 'White Shoes' Johnson.

"We've got some that can jump and people that are strong in the distance events. We're pretty balanced," Clanton said.