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The ongoing questions surrounding Wharton's track programs have been when will the Wildcats bring home a state championship and who will be first - the boys or the girls?

After a second-place result by the boys and a 12th-place finish by the girls at the state meet last year, this could be the season for one of them. Or possibly both.

With a deep squad loaded with athletes, especially strong in hurdles, relays and distance, the Wildcat girls arguably are more talented than last year's group that won its second straight district and region championships.

"We are better this year," said longtime Wharton girls coach Wes Newton. "Now we just have to compete well with the big programs in the state and move up to their level."

There's plenty of talent to get the girls to that next level with members of the region-winning 4x800 relay team all returning: Lauren and Kristin Galbraith, Jessica Forrester and Tiffannie Saxton.

Teona Rodgers (hurdles), Grace Jones (high jump) and Ae'Quoia Diggs (long jump) are solid in their specialties while track newcomers Kathia and Katrina Skinner will attempt to translate their all-state cross country prowess to the 800- and 400-meter events.

"We have filled in some of our holes," Newton said. "Now we want to make sure our key performances are up to the state level."

The Wharton boys, who placed second after finishing just three points behind state champs Wolfson last year, may be even closer to taking the next step.

First-year coach Clarence Williams, who assisted with middle distance events the past two seasons, isn't making wholesale changes. Instead, he said he is focusing on improved training and installing a new attitude.

"I want them to continue to work hard and also be held more accountable for their actions," Williams said. "The training may be a little more intense but we want to focus on the quality of our workouts, not necessarily quantity."

Top athletes for the Wildcats include Sadat Kahin, who will run the 400 and 800 meters. Kahin may again be part of the 4x400 meter relay unit, along with Roshard Green, that took first in the region last season.

Other top returners will be Ryan Courtoy, the region champ in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events, and Ryan Dixon, who runs in several events.

"Our program has always been based on distance," Williams said. "But now we have some new guys, football guys, coming out to run sprints. We always have had one or two sprinters but now we have about six that can be competitive through the regionals."

And what if the most dominant track squads in the county don't hoist state championship trophies this season?

"I don't look at it like any pressure on us," Newton said. "The extra level we get to compete at is icing on the cake.

"We hold our own during the regular season. Then we get to go to regions and state and see what we can do - that makes it a lot of fun."