MURFREESBORO – Three Hawkins County athletes return to defend medals, while another seeks her first when the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) State Track & Field Championships are held Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University.

Cherokee senior hurdler Mataylin Goins, who has been battling Sevier County’s Aislinn McElhaney for first at meets all year, finished second to her in the 300-meter hurdles at the May 11 Sectional at Hardin Valley.

Goins, currently ranked eighth in the state — right behind McElhaney, is out to better her seventh-place performance in last year’s 300-meter hurdles at the state meet.

“Me and Aislinn have been back to back over and over, so hopefully I’ll beat her or get a PR, just keep on pushing and place in the top four,” Goins said.

“She finished second in the 300 meter hurdles,” said Cherokee track coach Chad Laster.

“There have only been three Lady Chiefs to place this high at sectionals. The other two were Courtney Brooks, who finished second in the discus in 2015 and Savannah Marlow, who finished second in discus in 2014.”

Goins’ sophomore teammate, Katie Biggs, who set the TMSAA state middle school discus record (101-04) at the TMSAA state track meet two years ago, medaled at the TSSAA high school track meet as a freshman last year (107-05), good enough for sixth place.

Biggs is currently ranked sixth in the state in the discus. She is also tied for second with Brooks and Kasey Morse in Cherokee girls track history for highest place finish (sixth) in the state meet. Marlow was fifth in the state in discus in 2013.

Fellow sophomore Ashley Salyers of Volunteer, also medaled at last year’s state meet, placing seventh in the triple jump by setting a personal record of 35-02. She broke that record at the sectional with a state berth-qualifying jump of 35-05.5. Salyers is ranked seventh on the performance list of this year’s 16 state qualifiers.

“Ashley Salyers is really our top returning athlete in the whole program,” Volunteer track coach Jim Ailshie said last month. “It’s hard to believe she’s only a sophomore. But she’s really a true veteran. She finished seventh as a freshman at the state meet in the triple jump. That’s an incredible accomplishment.”

Cherokee senior Harper Russell, who qualified for the state cross country meet last year but had been denied the state track meet the previous three attempts, earned a berth in tomorrow’s state track meet with a dazzling sectional performance in the 800-meter run May 11.

“It feels amazing,” Russell said after the run. “I have no words. I just want to give God all the glory.”

Russell (2:16.70) nudged out Science Hill’s Katy Neubert (2:20.33) for the event’s fourth and final berth.

“I could see what was in front of me, but the past three years, I’ve been fifth, fifth and sixth, so I always know there’s someone coming,” said Russell.

“Harper ran 2:16 in the 800 meters, which obliterated her school record by three seconds,” said Cherokee track coach Chad Laster. “The 2017 and 2018 State Champions in this event also ran 2:16.

“This goes to show that our Section is the fastest in Tennessee with the top four finishers timed at 2:13, 2:15, 2:15 and 2:16,” Laster said. Those top four stand at the top of the TSSAA State Track & Field Championships performance list.