Saturday February 6th, 2016 10:39AM

Track and Field: Area stars hoping to defend crowns, add new ones

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
ALBANY -- If last year was the breakthrough, this is the year that northeast Georgia's athletes look to cement a legacy.

The three standouts that claimed gold at last year's GHSA girls track and field championships will gun for repeat crowns starting today in Albany, and plenty of other northeast Georgia competitors have their own sites set on titles in the three-day event.

"Last year was a huge deal; and it would mean so much to win it again this year," said White County distance specialist Jenna Gearing, who claimed last year's 3,200 championship and finished second in the 1,600. "I'm extremely excited right now, and I feel like my chances are pretty good."

Indeed, the sophomore is among the favorites in both events, especially the 3,200, where her Region 7-AAA championship-winning time of 11 minutes, 26 seconds is the best in Class AAA so far this season.

In fact three 7-AAA representatives will be looking to defend their crowns, as North Hall's Gabrielle Hoffman (pole vault) and West Hall's Maia Booker (100 meters) also gun for repeats -- a feat that could prove even more difficult than their initial championships.

"The competition is harder this year," said Gearing. "Everyone has gotten better, and there are some new girls running well too."

That certainly is the case in the Class AAA pole vault, where Hoffman will try and face down Cartersville's Anna Hightower.

The Purple Hurricanes standout has cleared a class-best 12-feet-1 this season -- a foot above Hoffman's 11-1 personal best. But Hoffman says she isn't worried about making it a one-on-one competition, rather pushing herself to be at her best.

"I want to set a new school record and break my own record," said Hoffman, who will compete in the pole vault on Thursday morning and the 100 hurdles preliminaries that afternoon. "I feel like the conditions will be perfect -- not too hot, no rain -- and I'm ready for it."

Hoffman has improved her performance by over a foot this season -- she won the 2013 pole vault with a performance of 10-0 -- and has steadily cleared 11-0, something that could work in her favor.

"(Hightower) hasn't been consistent with her biggest vaults, so I'm just looking to stay with her and keep the pressure on," Hoffman said.

Speaking of pressure, West Hall's Booker can expect to feel some from an old rival in Peach County's Keondria Simmons. Booker burned Simmons for last year's 100 gold, putting up a 12.06-second mark. But Simmons owns the fastest time in Class AAA this season with a 12.08. Booker, who has been battling injury throughout the campaign, showed she is starting to get healthy at the right, however, blitzing the field in the Region 7-AAA championships with a 12.60.

"My time (at the Region 7-AAA championships) was OK but not where it needs to be to win state," Booker said after the 7-AAA meet. "I should be able to knock my time down with some work."

Gearing expects to do plenty of work herself this weekend, as she looks to fend off Blessed Trinity's Anna Gandolfo and Hart County newcomer Audrey Honiotes -- a freshman who has burst on the scene much like Gearing did a year ago.

"It will be stressful, but everyone has pushed me to reach a championship level," said Gearing, who has also battled injuries from playing soccer this season (she also played both sports last year). "My times are getting better and hopefully I'm peaking right now."

Gearing has come nowhere near last year's championship-winning 3,200 time of 11:08 -- posting a season-best 11:26 at the 7-AAA championships. But the season-best is still the best in Class AAA this season.

Yet Gearing also hopes to claim the double gold that eluded her last year, also gunning for the 1,600.

"It won't be easy; I'm expecting a crazy weekend, but I'm excited," Gearing said.

Bring home more gold and that excitement could reach fever pitch in northeast Georgia.

Athletes ordered by school, alphabetically

Banks County
Makayla Hewell, 1,600 and 3,200

4x100 relay team
4x400 relay team
Erin Marsh, 400 and 300 hurdles
Dominique Martin, high jump
Kiki Mincey, shot put and discus
Brittany Poole, shot put
Bailey Roberts, 1,600 and 3,200
Megan Ward, 800
Tyra Williams, 100 and 200
Zikaya Wright, discus

Merrie Barnett, 800
Sara Beth English, 3,200
Kim Hylton, 300 hurdles
Kristin Moroz, high jump

Qua Colbert, discus
Anna Flint, discus
Lily Mathers, high jump, 100 and 300 hurdles
Sydney McClure, high jump and 300 hurdles

Dawson County
Bailey Cotter, 800
Savannah Haberkam, discus
Katelynn Simpson, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles

East Jackson
4x400 relay team
Robin Adair, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles
Lexie Evans, discus
Jasmine Pressley, 200 and 400
Randi Slizewski, discus
Arianna Summers, pole vault

Flowery Branch
Alisha Parks, discus and shot put
Kayle Tanner, 800
Cassie Ward, 3,200

Jackson County
Destiny Gaudlock, triple jump

4x400 relay team A
4x400 relay team B
Reese Bowles, 1,600 and 3,200
Chandler Bragg, 800
Abby Carson, 100 hurdles and pole vault
Taylor Love, 300 hurdles
Maggie Newman, discus
Camille Porter, 800
Jerilyn Williamson, 300 hurdles

Lumpkin County
Emily Garner, discus
Kele Howerton, pole vault
Sydney Kinard, long jump

North Hall
4x100 relay team
Makayla Ellis, 1,600 and 3,200
Gabrielle Hoffman 100 hurdles and pole vault
Trini Puente, 200 and 100 hurdles
Mary Seid, pole vault
Harper Seymour, shot put and discus
Hennebry Waters, 800

Rabun County
4x100 relay team
4x400 relay team
Jordan Gihl, 100 hurdles
Elizabeth Sprinkle, discus
Sally Woerner, 100 hurdles and shot put

Union County
4x400 relay team
Emma Garrison, 800 and 1,600
Julia Lindsey, 3,200

West Hall
Maia Caldwell-Booker, 100 and long jump
Jarlissa Lattimore, shot put

White County
4x100 relay team
4x400 relay team
Jenna Gearing, 1,600 and 3,200
Kaitlyn Gearing, 400, 300 hurdles and high jump
Chloe Maddox, pole vault
Kristin Mitchell, 800
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