Best Of The Decade

The Roundup picks the top athletes of the '90s


In the 1990s, Rim country sports fans had the opportunity to follow the exploits of a number of stellar athletes who used their time locally to build foundations for promising careers on the next level.

Those of us who watched and cheered these young athletes during their years in Payson have been rewarded with a wealth of sports memories that will enrich us forever.

Among the top 10 selections are athletes who were graced with all the natural attributes it takes to excel on the playing field. But there are others who carry the label "over-achievers." For those, strong work ethics were the secrets of their successes.

Selecting the top 10 athletes of the decade was a daunting task, but after conferring with coaches, game officials, fans and school records, we've narrowed it down.

Here is the Payson Roundup's top 10 athletes of the 1990s in alphabetical order.


Young Bo Althoff left little doubt early in his high school career that pole vaulting was his first love, spending countless hours honing his skills under the tutelage of then-PHS coach Dan Reid. But his talents weren't limited to track and field; Althoff was also an award-winning athlete in both football and basketball.

As a senior in 1992, Althoff set the school pole vault record of 16 feet, 5 3/4 inches. Today, that mark stands third best in Arizona high school and field record books.

As the state's best pole vaulter, Althoff earned a bevy of invitations to postseason meets where he competed against and often beat the nation's best.

In football, Althoff was a natural who possessed size, strength and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

As a three-year varsity starter for the Longhorns, he was a ferocious hitter from his defensive backfield position and a power runner as a fullback.

He didn't spend a lot of time in the weight room early in his career, but because of his natural ability, few players on the field were his equal. At the conclusion of his senior year, he was named all-region, all-state and all-star.

Colleges, including Arizona State University, expressed interest in acquiring the services of Althoff but the youngster politely declined saying he was committed to pole vaulting.

Althoff also excelled on then-coach Jim Quinlan's basketball teams, but a ankle injury sidelined him for most of his senior campaign.

A year earlier he had been an all-region pick.

After leaving PHS, Althoff accepted a track and field scholarship to Arizona State. He later transferred to a junior college and then to Northern Arizona University where he graduated two years ago.

At NAU he expressed interest in returning to football but was unable to because of NCAA eligibility rules dating back to when he first attended Arizona State.

Currently, Althoff is serving as an apprentice lineman for Sturgeon Electric in Phoenix. He is, however, a frequent visitor to Payson where his parents Ken and Nancy reside.


Naturally gifted with a rare combination of strength and grace, Nicole Engstrom was one of the most accomplished athletes ever to don a Lady Longhorn uniform.

In basketball, she was a four-year letter winner (1988 - 1991) who dominated play whenever she took the court. Engstrom, now a police officer in Tucson, holds the school career record for field goal percentage (44.7), free throw percentage (72) and rebounds (507). She also has the mark for best field goal percentage in a single season (50.1 percent -- 1991).

The outcome of many a game turned in the Lady Horns' favor thanks to the rebounding and scoring of Engstrom.

In track and field, she was a gold-medal threat in most any event she entered. Her 1991 discus mark of 143 feet, 11 inches still stands as a Payson High School record.

At both the Conquistador Meet of Champions in Tucson and at the Bishop Amat, Calif. Relays, she was named the "Outstanding Athlete."

One of her greatest honors occurred when she was named outstanding field event athlete at the 1991 Great Southwest Invitational.

After leaving Payson, Engstrom accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona and eventually was elected a co-captain of the Wildcat track and field team.

At one point in her collegiate career, she was an Olympic team hopeful. However, a torn rotator cuff that never healed properly ended that dream. After graduation from the U. of A. she taught public school in Tucson for two years before settling on a career in law enforcement.


Never one to back down from a basketball challenge, young Colleen Hale --during her junior high school years --often found herself playing in pick-up games with the boys.

More often than not, she emerged as the star of the game.

Under the watchful eye of her father, Glenn, she honed her shooting skills well enough to became a state and region champion in a popular nationwide basketball competition.

At Payson High School (1992-95) she rapidly built a reputation as one of the best outside shooters in the state. She currently holds the records for most three-points shots in a single game (7 in 1995), in a season (42 in 1995) and a career (119).

She also holds records for most points averaged in a single season (19.3 in 1995) and most points averaged in a career (14.0).

As a defensive demon on the court, Hale set marks for steals in a game (16), season (131) and career (360).

Along with basketball, she also excelled in track and field and cross country.

During her senior season, she was a member of the record-setting 4x800 relay team (10:05.48) along with Emy Gibson, Jennie Garrett and Jessica Meeske.

After graduation from Payson High, Hale went on to play basketball at Yavapai College in Prescott.

Today, she resides in Portland, Ore., where she is a hotel manager.


Entering his freshman year of high school in 1991, Chris Harold harbored the potential to become a very good basketball player.

Even though he expressed an interest in the sport, Harold opted to set his basketball career on the back burner and instead continued with wrestling in which he had excelled since elementary school.

The decision proved to be a wise one for the teenager who went on to become a weight class state runner-up in 1994 and a state champion in 1995. During those two years, he was considered one of Arizona's top-notch wrestlers in the upper weight classifications. Few had the strength, speed or mettle to battle with him.

As a three-year letter winner in football, he was a solid two-way player who anchored the Horn offensive and defensive lines.

A serious knee injury, however, shelved him for part of his prep career.

Coaches respected his abilities enough to select him to several all-region, all-state and all-star teams at the conclusion of his junior and senior years.

Once a darn good baseball player, Harold gave up the sport after his sophomore year at PHS and turned to track and field.

As a shot-putter and discus thrower, he showed a great deal of promise. Eventually, he improved enough to become a state qualifier.

After graduation, Harold continued his football career at New Mexico, Highlands.

After leaving Highlands, he enrolled in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and is scheduled to student teach at PHS this spring.

Last fall, he returned to Payson long enough to help coach the Rim Country Middle School Mavericks eighth-grade team to a 6-1 record.


During his tenure at Payson High School (1989 to 1992), Kyle Hilton was a star in any sport he was participating, whether it be football, wrestling or baseball.

As a wrestler, Hilton grappled his way to 160-pound weight-class championships in both his junior and senior years. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was a state runner-up.

With two state gold medals and two silvers, he ranks as one of the most celebrated wrestlers in the rich and storied history of Longhorn wrestling.

Coach Dennis Pirch labeled Hilton an exceptional talent who had most all the attributes it takes to succeed in the sport.

In addition to earning the state gold and silver honors, Hilton was chosen an Arizona Coaches Association All-Star team member in 1992.

In football, he also was an ACA selection but was never able to participate in the North vs. South game due to summer employment commitments.

Other football honors included his selection to the all-region teams as a junior and senior and all-state as a senior.

A three-year varsity letter winner, he shined both offensively and defensively for the Longhorns.

In 1991, he was the team's leading rusher, finishing just shy of 1,000 yards. Defensively, he was one of the most feared linebackers in the region often reverting to his wrestling take-down skills when it came to executing tackles.

Hilton also excelled on the baseball diamond for coach Teddy Pettet finishing as one of Payson's best all-around athletes playing shortstop, pitcher and catcher.

Coaches tapped him an all-region performer after his junior and senior seasons.

He was also chosen an ACA all-star baseball participant, making him one of a rare few who became star selections in three sports.

Today, Kyle, his wife Cathy and two children reside in Payson where he is employed by Four Corners Concrete. He has now taken up team roping as his newest sports endeavor.


"Unlimited potential" is probably the best way to describe the Payson High School junior who is quickly etching her mark on the Arizona high school sports scene.

As one of the state's best athletes in basketball, volleyball and track and field, she will soon be hounded by college recruiters eager to acquire her services.

In track, she is the current school record-holder in four events. They include the long jump (17 feet, 5 inches), triple jump (36 feet, 5 inches), 100 meters (12.44) and 200 meters (26.72). All the marks were set last spring except the 200-meter standard, which was established in 1998. With two seasons of track eligibility remaining, Martinez is almost certain to improve upon her past marks.

In volleyball, Martinez was named to the 3A Conferences All-Tournament team and earlier was an all-region selection.

Her powerful spikes from her middle-hitter position at the net have sent more than one opponent scurrying for cover.

As the leading scorer on the Lady Longhorn basketball team, she has played her way to four all-tournament teams in the past two seasons.

In addition to her scoring, Martinez is one of the fiercest rebounders in the East division, an excellent ball handler and can run the floor with the quickest of players.

Competing against the state's best basketball players at a National Junior Olympic basketball tournament in Phoenix last spring, she emerged as the most valuable player.


Proving size is not a pre-requisite for success, 120-pound Christopher Pirch was one of Payson's best in three sports -- wrestling, track and field and cross country.

The youngster, however, will be best remember for his accomplishments on the Longhorn wrestling team that was founded and coached by his father, Dennis Pirch.

From 1995 until his graduation in 1998, Christopher Pirch was one of the most successful high school wrestlers in Arizona. As a junior and senior, Pirch achieved the pinnacle of wrestling success winning state championships in his weight class. In 1996, he was a state second-place finisher.

His contributions and leadership skills helped the Longhorns earn state championships three consecutive years.

Pirch's exploits weren't limited to high school wrestling.

Since he was an elementary school student, the youngster traveled the western United States competing on the USA Wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman circuit.

At the conclusion of his senior wrestling season, the youngster was named to the USA Academic All-American team.

When he wasn't on the mat, Pirch was competing for either the Longhorn cross country or track and field teams.

In cross country and the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs in track, he paced the Longhorns in most every meet with his determined efforts that always left him spent.

"When he's done, there's no gas left in the tank," a coach once said after watching Pirch push himself to the limits.

In the state cross country finals, he was a two-time state medalist (top 15).

Pirch's achievements eventually earned him an academic/ wrestling scholarship to Cornell University.

Currently he is sophomore at Cornell and a member of the wrestling team competing in the 141-pound class.


Seldom do athletes with the abilities and skills of Darren Reid turn up in small town high schools.

From 1988 to 1991, Reid dazzled state sports fans with his record-setting athletic feats in both track and basketball.

The son of former PHS coaches Dan and Donna Reid, Darren enjoyed a jump start in sports at a very young age competing nationally as a member of the Payson Pacers track club.

In high school, he was labeled a "phenom," setting school records in the high jump (6 feet, 10 1/2 inches), triple jump (49 feet, 3 inches) and long jump (24 feet, 24 1/2 inches. His triple jump mark is the third best in Arizona prep sports history. The high jump is ninth best.

His track accomplishments earned him invitations to numerous national meets including Great Southwest, Golden West and the granddaddy of them all -- the Keebler International Prep Invitational in Chicago. His crowning glory came as a senior when he was named Arizona's Gatorade Athlete of the Year.

In basketball, Reid was an all-region, all-state and ACA all-star his senior year. His school records includes best free-throw percentage (87.6%) in a season and most three pointers (139) in a career.

Reid accepted a scholarship to the University of Arizona, but transferred after one year to Oklahoma Baptist where in 1994, he set a NAIA national pentathlon record.

He currently attends Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.


As one of the top 10 ranked prep heptathletes in the United States, Stephanie Robertson was one of the most recognized track and field athletes in Payson High School history. Upon her graduation from PHS in 1999, she accepted an athletic scholarship to Northern Arizona University and is now a member of the Lady Lumberjack track and field team.

During her three-year tenure at PHS -- she transferred from Camp Verde as a sophomore --

Robertson set a trio of track and field school records that still stand. They include the high jump (5 feet, 6 inches), 110-meter hurdles (12.44) and 300-meter hurdles (45.34).

Almost always entered in the maximum four events, Robertson could be counted on to earn enough team points to single handily make the Lady Longhorns a threat to win any multi-meet.

In 1997 at the Glendale Invitational, she burst onto the heptathlon seen as an unknown but quickly began setting state and meet records wherever she competed.

Invited to compete against the United States' best heptathletes at the Great Southwest Track and Field meet her senior year, she finished second, setting a personal record point total of 4,543 points.

Robertson also shined on the amateur track circuit qualifying for national meets held around the country.

In addition to track and field, she excelled in basketball and volleyball earning all-region, all-state and coaches association all-star honors in both endeavors.

Few athletes have emerged from the Rim country with the all-around three-sport abilities of Robertson.


Currently in St. Louis, Mo. serving a church mission, this 1999 Payson High School graduate grabbed national sports attention when he was featured in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of Sports Illustrated magazine. Walden earned the honor for setting a state record for most home runs in a season. The record was established during his junior year, but has since been broken by a Tempe player.

As one of Payson High's most accomplished baseball players, Walden's efforts helped the Longhorns earn their first-ever state championship last spring.

Months earlier, Walden quarterbacked the Horn football team to the Class 3A state championship rolling up a 13-0 record along the way.

At the conclusion of his junior and senior football campaigns, he was named both all-region and all-state. Walden was also selected to quarterback the North team in the Arizona Coaches Association All-Star game, but had to decline due to a serious knee injury suffered during the basketball season.

Before his prep basketball career was cut short by the injury which required surgery, Walden was a record-setting player who was named to almost every all-star team he was eligible for.

He currently holds the PHS season records for most three-point shots made (85 in 1998) and most assists (195 in 1998). The single game record for most three-pointers (seven) is held by Walden.

He also shares the single game mark for most steals (10) with former Horn star Mark Hochstetler and most assists (12) with Byron Quinlan.

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