Courtesy of Ty Freeman

Georgia's high school track and field athletes in all classifications now have one more hurdle to jump before the annual state championships in May. In past years, the athletes would use this weekend's regional meets to qualify for the state championships. Starting this spring, the top four placers in each region event qualify for sectionals, and the top performers at next week's sectionals qualify for the state meet.

While the new system definitely adds a wrinkle and is a little confusing to some at first glance, the intent is very clear: get the best track and field athletes into the state meet. In the past, regions have only sent their top two placers in each event to state. Now, four athletes from each region will compete at one of two sectional meets in each class. (Every classification will have an east and west sectional with four regions represented).

Each sectional will then send eight athletes per discipline on to state. Therefore, it's now possible that a particular region can send four athletes per event (not including relays) to state. As in the past, each event at state will have 16 entrants.

For the top competitors and top teams this is great opportunity, but with the opportunity comes challenges. McEachern head coach Phil Hoskins, whose boys team won the Cobb County meet, is planning accordingly. "The (regionals and sectionals) are both big, really big, because you have to get out of regionals to get to sectionals," said Hoskins.

Hoskins has been working hard to optimize the McEachern practice sessions and make sure the kids are peaking at the right time. However, there are some precautions in this approach.

"You've got to give the kids a lot of recovery time and keep them hydrated," said Hoskins. From a performance standpoint, Hoskins' mantra is simple. "We're looking for times to go down (on the track) and distances to go up (in the field events)."

One student-athlete that certainly helps Hoskins feel good about his team is his All-American 100-meter and 200-meter candidate, Amba Etta-Tawo. A University of Maryland football signee, Etta-Tawo has posted times among the top 50 nationally (10.53 seconds in 100-meter and 21.51 in the 200 meters) in each event this season. Hoskins also believes that his star athlete has room to peak. "Those times can come down," he declared.

Etta-Tawo isn't expected to run track his freshman year (many football athletes don't run in their first spring on campus) at Maryland, but Hoskins believes it's a very real possibility down the road. "It's something to look into, and he'd be a good asset."

After regionals this week and sectionals next week, the qualifying girls will head directly to the state meet May 3-5 in Albany. The boys get a week off before their state meet May 8-10 in Jefferson.