Lady Horns Relay Team Continues To Set Standard

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With three state championships to its credit, the Lady Longhorn track and field program has produced some of the best talent in Arizona.

But none of the fabled athletes were able to match the accomplishments of the 2001 edition of the 3,200-meter relay team that has set and broken school records this season.

The most recent standard of 9:50.44 was set March 24 at the Chandler Invitational by the foursome of Leighann Haynes, Michelle Closs, Brooke Bennett and Whitney Hardt. That mark erased the PHS record of 9:58.49 set in earlier season by Haynes, Amy Davis, Brooke Bennett and Hardt. Closs replaced Davis as the second leg runner March 21 after Closs won an 800-meter runoff between the two at the Bourgade Invitational.

According to Lady Horn coach Chuck Hardt, Davis continues to be an alternate member of the team and could be called upon to fill in if needed.

Davis is also a contender for a spot on the 4x400 relay team and is a rapidly improving pole vaulter.

In addition to being the best 3,200 relay team in PHS track history, the squad holds the distinction of being the second-ranked prep team in the state.

Only talented Class 5A Desert Vista has posted a better clocking this season.

DV set the state's best mark of 9:36.44 at the Chandler Invitational. The clocking also broke the meet record set by Tempe Mountain Pointe a year earlier.

This year, Mountain Pointe is state third-ranked with an ET of 9:51.28.

Both of those Tempe schools are drawing their teams from student bodies of almost 3,000 students. Payson has less than 1,000 enrolled.

As good as the Rim country's small-school relay team is, coach Hardt predicts it can get even better.

"They are that talented," he said.

The next opportunity for the team to improve upon its school record will be Thursday in Lakeside at the Blue Ridge Invitational.

In early week practice sessions, the coach indicated he might soon be toying with the rotation of the four runners. One of his ploys involves having Whitney Hardt, his niece, run the opening leg and Haynes handle the anchor chores.

With Whitney the fastest runner first, the "team will be in contention through every leg," coach Hardt said.

Also, by switching Whitney to the opening leg, the coach might be setting the stage for things to come at the state meet May 11 and 12 in Chandler.

If freshman Whitney remains as the first runner, she would most likely go head-to-head against Chino Valley's highly regarded Jodie Denike.

The CV distance star runs the first leg for her school's relay team and throughout the season has gotten the squad off to lengthy head starts opponents have found difficult to make up.

Running Whitney first, coach Hardt said, "would create good matchups for us."

Denike and Whitney are no strangers to one another, having met at the state cross country championships last fall. In a spirited finish, Denike edged Whitney by .01 of a second for the Class 3A state title.

In last year's state track and field 800-meter finals, Denike a senior slated to continue her track career at Northern Arizona University edged Haynes for the title by .01 of a second.

No matter which rotation coach Hardt opts to run his 3,200-meter foursome, the team continues to be a solid contender for the state crown.

If those honors do fall the team's way, it will most likely find itself on the receiving end of several postseason invitations including one to prestigious Luke Greenway in Phoenix.

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