The South Burlington girls and St. Johnsbury boys indoor track and field teams are the defending state champions.
They have the star power — Rebel Kayla Gilding is a top-seeded sprinter and jumper; Hilltopper Dage Minors is chasing multiple crowns in the mid-distance — to remain title contenders at Saturday’s state championships at Norwich University.
That might not be enough to overtake Essex’s depth.
The Hornet boys are seeking their first outright title since 2008 while the Hornet girls aim to end South Burlington’s two-year reign when competition gets under way at 10:30 a.m.
“We are very talented and very thin. Things have to happen in the right direction, hoping to make a run,” said St. Johnsbury boys coach Chip Langmaid, whose program, known for a decorated history in outdoor track, won its first boys indoor crown last winter.
“Essex is so strong, they seem to be the top dog,” South Burlington girls coach Dennis Akey said.
The Hornet boys are seeded to score in all but four of Saturday’s events. Bobby Evans (first in high jump, first in triple jump and fourth in long jump) and Tim Yandow (first in long jump, second in high jump, third in pole vault and fifth in triple jump) lead a field-event crew that should rack up big points.
Minors has the top seeds in the 1,600, 1,000, 600 and 300 and is listed as one of the runners on SJA’s top-ranked 4×400-meter relay squad. By rule, Minors, who set the 1,600 state record earlier this season, can only run four events and will have to scratch from at least one race.
“We’ll have to pull one, but he’s definitely running the 1,600 and the relay,” Langmaid said.
On the girls side, Essex’s depth in the jumps should yield a boatload of points. Behind Katherine Furland, Essex is seeded to score 60 points in the three jumps and pole vault. Furland is ranked first in the high jump, second in long jump, second in triple jump and third in pole vault.
Sprint-heavy Mount Anthony and Fair Haven are also among the girls’ contenders. Gilding sits atop the seeds in the 55, 300, long jump and is a member of SBHS’s No.1-ranked 4×400 relay outfit.
Saturday’s championship is the first Vermont Principals’ Association-sanctioned competition in three weeks, a layoff that has tested athletes physically and mentally.
“It’s really a toss-up. Who’s going to be flat? Who’s going to be sharp?” Langmaid said.
Added Akey: “I’ve never experienced that much time before a state meet. One huge pro is if anybody had some nagging injuries, there was time to heal.”