The Lady Longhorn track and field team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Arizona prep sports history last weekend, ending the Safford Bulldogs' national record 12-year state championship reign.
The Lady Horns outscored Safford 168-157 to claim the state title. Going into the meet, the Bulldogs had been favorites to win the crown.
Pete Greer, a veteran track and football coach, helped escort the Longhorn teams to the University of Arizona in Tucson where the championship meet was contested.
During the two-day trip, Greer kept a journal of the activities that led to the Lady Horns' first-place finish and a fourth-place showing for the PHS boys' team.
Coach Greer agreed to share his journal with our readers. This is what he wrote:
Friday, May 14
8:00 a.m. -- The adventure begins as the bus leaves Payson. The ladies face a daunting task. In order to win the state championship they have to beat a seasoned, talented Safford team.
Noon -- Two rest stops and four hours later we check into the motel and eat lunch brought in ice chests from Cousins in Payson. The team has an hour to nap and rest.
1:30 p.m. -- Finally, the first load of athletes and coaches leave for U of A's Drachman track stadium. Coach (Chuck) Hardt sums up our feelings: "I really can't wait to get this meet started."
Late afternoon -- The first surprise of the meet occurs in the men's discus. Mike Barker entered the meet ranked fourth in the field of qualifiers. St. Johns' Jacob Belche was the favorite. Mike set the tone early with a 148-foot throw. Belche battles back with a 160-foot throw. On his fifth throw, Mike regains the lead with a 161 foot, 10-inch heave. Belche has two tries to regain the lead, but can't.
Mike cements his reputation as one of the best athletes in a class of great athletes. He is an all-state football player on a state championship team. He is a state champion wrestler and now an all-state track athlete.
About 6 p.m. -- The 4x800 relay is the first running event. Our (boys') team has been top ranked for most of the season but an injury to our top 800 runner, Heath Boyle, has put their standing in question.
Mike Sprinkle, Kaare Wagner and Andy Pederson put us in fourth place. Now it's up to Heath. It is quickly evident he is not fully recovered -- he's limping early in his first lap. Safford quickly closes to a couple of meters behind . But Heath withstands the challenge and we finish fourth.
Later in the evening -- Next up is the 100-meter hurdles. We qualify two for the finals -- Stephanie Robertson and Sara Schmidt. Freshman Samantha Ellsworth trips over a hurdle early in the race but jumps up and finishes. She does not qualify for finals. Samantha is treated for skin burn from her shin to over her knee.
The ladies' shot put is under way. Stephanie Robertson and Kaitlin Wilkins carry our hopes. Safford has three putters entered. Kaitlin takes sixth place, Stephanie fourth. Safford finishes second and fifth, but the domination the Bulldogs wanted doesn't occur.
Back on the track in the 100 preliminaries, David Shaw qualifies for finals on Saturday night. Rheanna (Martinez) earns a berth in the girls' 100.
Rheanna wins a silver medal in the triple jump. Jodi Smith of St. Johns set a new state record to beat Rheanna.
About 8 p.m. -- One of our best chances to put up some big points is in the ladies' pole vault. We qualified all four vaulters. April Cheek, Amy Davis, Katie Smoyer and Shawna McCarty are on top of their game. April is seventh, Katie is sixth, Amy fifth and Shawna third. The pole vault contributes 22 points. The highlight of this event is watching Shawna encourage and help the younger vaulters. She becomes a coach on the field.
In the 4x100 preliminaries, the men qualify for the finals with Joe Sanchez filling in for injured Boyle. The ladies' team of Katie Langeliers, Sara Schmidt, Brianna Marshall and Ellsworth easily wins their heat. Samantha shakes off her wound from the hurdles to run a good anchor leg.
About midnight -- Friday night ends with the boys in fourth with 22 points and Safford leading the way with 57. The (Payson) ladies lead the meet with 48 points. Safford has 30 and Snowflake 29. The coaches are concerned about the late hour. Pizza is being ordered and taken to the motel.
1:30 a.m. After eating and showering, the athletes are finally settling down to sleep. This is not the best way to prepare for a big meet.
Saturday, May 15
Early next morning -- Coach Hardt anticipates the athletes will need to sleep in and arranges for a late check out.
About 11 a.m. -- The morning is a leisurely one, but the excitement and anticipation of the athletes is easy to sense.
2:30 p.m. -- The Payson bus arrives at the stadium and we are finally ready for the state finals.
3:30 p.m. -- The first event for the men is the shot put. After taking the first three places at the divisional meet, the (Payson) throwers carry the hopes of the men's team on their shoulders. Mike Barker comes within two inches of his PR to place third. Ken Holcomb provides drama as he improves from seventh to fourth on his last throw. Jeremy Hoff wins with a throw of 52 feet, 5 inches. The crew has contributed 30 points to the boys' dream of a state championship.
About 5 p.m. -- During the shot put, the running finals are beginning. The ladies 4x800 team starts off right with a fifth-place finish. Safford picked up a few points, finishing ahead of Payson.
Stephanie (Robertson) takes second and Sara (Schmidt) fourth in the 100 hurdles. Both run slightly slower than in the prelims. David Shaw finishes fifth in the 100 with a time of 11.57. The late hours the night before is taking a toll on the athletes.
About 7 p.m. -- In the 4x100, the boys' team finishes third as David Shaw runs past three opponents on the anchor leg.
Next up is the 400-meter run. Safford has the first and second fastest ladies in the 3A. Brianna (Marshall) is the only Payson qualifier. It's up to her to keep the point deficit as small as possible. She responds by placing third to the Safford ladies. This is a boost for our title hopes.
7:30 p.m. -- Rheanna Martinez claims another state title in the long jump, beating defending champion Jodi Smith of St. Johns. Stephanie (Robertson) finishes fifth. This helps the team earn back most of the points lost to Safford in the 400.
Also in the field events, the discus is under way. Although three (Lady Horns) have qualified, it is evident from the preliminary results that the Payson ladies will need to increase their personal best by several feet to place in the top eight. Safford is a huge favorite. The Bulldogs take first, fourth and fifth place for 23 points. The 22-0 Payson advantage in the pole vault is now more than wiped out. It's time to get worried.
About 8:30 p.m. In the ladies' 800, only Leighann Hayens is able to score out of our four entries. She places seventh. Safford finishes first to pull closer.
About 9 p.m. -- The 300 hurdles is up next, much to our relief. Stephanie and Sarah have been the two highest-ranked 300 athletes the entire year. Stephanie places second and Sarah fourth. We think this is the event that will insure Safford will not repeat as state champions for the 13th time.
In the 200, David (Shaw) is third. He is the first men's member to score in the sprints at the state meet in about nine years.
Minutes later -- Rheanna finishes fifth in the 200, which is very disappointing for her. However, her finish gives us insurance points heading to the end of the meet.
About 10 p.m. -- Finally the last event the 4x400 relay. Safford and Snowflake exchange the lead until the final lap, when Safford takes the lead for good. Brianna passes the Snowflake anchor on the final straightaway to gives us second. The time (4:10.25) is a new school record.
And now it's time to wait for the official meet results. The anticipation is nerve-racking. The big moment arrives when the announcer says "and the runnersup for the 1999 state championship is the Safford Bulldogs."
The scream that arises at this moment is not from Safford. The (Payson) girls know for the first time their season-long dream of defeating Safford is now fulfilled.
The announcer continues, "and now for the first time in 13 years a new state champion among the 3A girls."
The athletes exchange handshakes and hugs on the track and then begin their victory lap. As they tour the track, parents and coaches mingle and offer congratulations.
Just as our team comes down the last straightaway, they provide me with my best memory of the season. The ladies step off the track, bow on their knees and offer thanks. This is unusual for today's generation and it gives the greatest insight to the quality of our athletes and the value of athletics.
11 p.m. -- 28 years of coaching and I finally helped coach a state champion. What a blessing.
State Track Meet - Payson Women's Results
Team standings: 1st: Payson, 168; 2nd: Safford, 157; 3rd: Snowflake, 74; 4th: Show Low, 58; 5th: Round Valley, 56; 6th: St. Johns, 54; 7th: Blue Ridge, 52; 8th: Cactus Shadows, 47; 9th: Wickenberg, 41; 10th: Ganado, 36.
- 100 meters: Rheanna Martinez, 1st, 12.89;
- 100 hurdles: Stephanie Robertson, 2nd, 16.69; Sara Schmidt, 4th, 16.99;
- 800: Leighanne Haynes, 7th, 2:32.78;
- 400: Brianna Marshall, 3rd, 60.05 New School Record;
- 300 Hurdles: Stephanie Robertson, 2nd, 47.16; Sara Schmidt, 4th, 47.53;
- 200 Hurdles: Rheanna Martinez, 5th, 27.68;
- 4x100 Relay: Katie Langeliers, Brianna Marshall, Sara Schmidt, Samantha Ellsworth, 3rd, 51.61;
- 4x800 Relay: Shawna McCarty, Katie Langeliers, Katie Smoyer, Leighanne Haynes, 5th, 2:34;
- 4x400 Relay: Samantha Ellsworth, Katie Langeliers, Sara Schmidt, Brianna marshall, 2nd, 4:10.25; New School Record;
- Pole Vault: Shawna McCarty, 3rd, 9-0; Amy Davis, 5th, 7-6; Katie Smoyer, 6th, 7-6; April Cheek, 7th, 7-0;
- Long Jump: Rheanna Martinez, 1st, 17-4-1/4;
- Stephanie Robertson, 5th, 16-3-1/2;
- Stephanie Robertson, 3rd, 34-4; Kaitlin Wilkins, 6th, 33-2;
- Triple Jump: Rheanna Martinez, 2nd, 35-8.
State Track Meet - Payson Men's Results
Team standings: 1st: Winslow, 133; 2nd: Safford 99; 3rd: Round Valley, 96; 4th: Payson, 90; 5th: Alchesay, 88; 6th: Rio Rico, 82; 7th: Cactus Shadows, 69; 8th: St. Johns, 45; 9th: Snowflake, 28; 10th: Wickenberg, 26.
- 100 Meters: David Shaw, 5th, 11.57;
- 800 Meters: Andy Pederson, 6th, 2:03.72; Heath Boyle, 7th, 2:05.06;
- 200 Meters: David Shaw, 3rd, 22.9;
- 4x100 Relay: Andrew Easton, Josh Barnhardt, Joe Sanchez, David Shaw, 3rd, 45.23;
- 4x800 Relay: Mike Sprinkle, Andy Pederson, Kaare Wagner, Heath Boyle, 4th, 8:29.8;
- 4x400 Relay: Mike Sprinkle, Josh Barnhardt, Andy Pederson, David Shaw, 6th, 8:33.28;
- Shot Put: Jeremy Hoff, 1st, 52-5; Mike Barker, 3rd, 49-10; Ken Holcombe, 4th, 49-5;
- Discus: Mike Barker, 1st, 161-10.