A sectional meet has been added to the qualifying process.
A new race and a new team are among the storylines heading into the Class 1 and Class 2 district meets, which take place Saturday across the state.
The Class 2 District 1 meet, which features Kelly, Scott City and Chaffee, will take place at Jackson. Saxony Lutheran, Oran, Scott County Central and Bell City will travel to Fulton, Mo., for the Class 1 District 1 meet, which is hosted by the Missouri School for the Deaf.
For area small schools, the biggest wrinkle to the track and field postseason is the addition of a sectional meet. In the past, the top four finishers in each event at the district meet advanced directly to the state meet. Now, the top four move on to the sectional meet, which is the same format currently used in Class 3 and Class 4.
"My opinion is it's going to hurt the small schools in Southeast Missouri," Chaffee coach Terry Glenzy said of the change. "You bring in the St. Louis schools and some other areas and I think it will knock some kids from going to state. I don't like it. I don't understand why they came up with it."
Saxony Lutheran's boys track team is the lone defending district championship team, having finished second in Class 1 last year. The Crusaders should be favored to continue their district domination once again this year. Saxony won state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 relays last year, and has excelled in those events again this season.
Crusaders senior Brandon Etzold is also attempting to defend his state titles in the 800 and 1,600. Etzold is the lone returning individual state champion among area competitors.
Saxony coach Larry Cleair said the sectional meet could extend the season of some of his athletes, and really only worries about the quick turnaround of events at the sectional meet.
"The only thing we're taking into consideration in the sectional is it's such a short meet," Cleair said. "A lot of our district kids who run multiple events, we're concerned if they'll get sufficient recovery [time]. The person who has to do the most is Brandon Etzold."
Scott County Central will make its track and field district debut Saturday. The Braves started a track and field program this year under coach David Heeb and have about 22 athletes on the team.
"We've had a lot of fun. Me and the kids have learned a lot about track," Heeb said. "Our first meet was the first track meet for all of us. I think as this goes on, it will get bigger and bigger."
Many of the prominent names on Scott County's roster this year are familiar to area basketball fans. Scott County junior D.D. Gillespie has been among the standouts, excelling in the sprint events.
With little track and field background throughout the new program, Heeb allowed his athletes to find the events that best suited them, and has continued to search for the best fits throughout the season.
"Our approach from the very beginning was go out there and find something you're good at," Heeb said.
Gillespie could have a good opportunity to get out of the district in multiple events, and Scott County could have a good chance in several of the individual sprint events and sprint relay events.
The Class 2 District 1 meet at Jackson will feature last year's boys state championship team in Malden. Facing the Green Wave will be one of many challenges facing Chaffee as it moves from Class 1 to Class 2. The Red Devils sent several athletes to the state meet last year and had an all-state relay team on the girls side.
Scott City should have several individuals move through the district meet, including returning all-state hurdler Derek Goodin. Freshman runner Stephanie Essner could get through the district in multiple events.
Saxony Lutheran, which has fielded a dominant boys team, also sports a top freshman on the girls side. Cassie Simpher has excelled this year in the sprint events.
"Cassie Simpher could have a lot of impact not only at the district meet, but at the state meet in three races," Cleair said. "She's pretty good in the 100 and 200, and phenomenal in the 400."