The 26th annual Carthage Invitational track and field meet is set to begin Thursday afternoon at K.E. Baker Stadium.

The 26th annual Carthage Invitational track and field meet is set to begin Thursday afternoon at K.E. Baker Stadium.

Field events are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. and running events are slated to follow at 4 p.m.

In all, 10 schools are scheduled to compete in this year’s event, which, as always, includes Erick’s Run, ran in the memory of Erick Grove, and the Carl Lewton team-high points award.

Teams competing in Thursday’s event, in addition to Carthage High School, include Carl Junction, East Newton, Joplin, Monett, Neosho, Nevada, Webb City, McDonald County and Seneca.

The Carthage Invitational has grown to become one of the premiere track and field events in Southwest Missouri over the years, and Andy Youngworth, Carthage High School track and field coach, expects another competitive field for this year’s meet.

“It’s hard to tell (a clear favorite) this early in the year,” Youngworth said. “On paper, I would say Neosho’s girls is the odds-on favorite and maybe Joplin for the boys.”

The Tigers, once again, captured first place in men’s competition and the Neosho Lady Wildcats, the 2008 champion, repeated on the women’s side. The Lady Tigers, who finished sixth in 2008, finished fourth behind Webb City and Joplin.

Neosho, as a team, captured the Carl Lewton Team Points award for the first time in school history after compiling 213.50 points. Joplin finished second in the team standings, while Carthage, which had won the award four out of the last five years, finished third.

Winning the award and finishing first is one of Carthage’s goals every season, and if the Tigers are able to scratch points in all 18 events, another team championship is plausible.

“Our goal is to try to score in all 18 events and twice in individual events,” Youngworth said. “One of our goals is to supercede individual goals for the first six to eight weeks.”

The Lady Tigers, who return a solid core of veterans along with a talented group of newcomers in both field and track events, are optimistic about their chances after finishing one point behind Carl Junction last week at the Mustang Stampede at McDonald County High School.

“There will be some stronger competition in some events (Thursday) that will take away some points,” Youngworth said. “We’re just looking to build on what we did last week.

“We might sneak in and surprise some people because our girls’ team is more competitive than last year.”