With track and field standout Reanna Martinez limited to just one event due to an injury, the Lady Longhorns weren't expected to make much of a scoring impact in the prestigious North Canyon Invitational.
But rising to the occasion much like a hardened warrior, the Lady Horns ran, jumped and threw their way to a third-place finish in the star-studded field that included most of the Class 4A and 5A powers.
With 122 points, 5A state championship favorite Mesa Mountain View claimed the title over runner-up Tempe Mountain Pointe (93). Compiling 57 points, the Lady Horns took the bronze. Xavier (48.5) was fourth and Mesa Red Mountain (44) fifth.
The only other Class 3A school in the 23-team field, Winslow, tallied just 4 1/2 points.
The powerful showing stamped the Lady Horns the odds-on favorite to earn a third consecutive state championship.
Relay team shines
According to Lady Horn coach Chuck Hardt, one of the highlights of the team's effort at North Canyon was the showing of the gold-medal winning 3,200-meter relay team. On the squad are Leighanne Haynes, Amy Davis, Brooke Bennett and Whitney Hardt.
By turning in a speedy ET of 9:58.44, the foursome easily eclipsed the previous PHS record (10:02.60) and were just one second off the state mark.
Although the team has stamped itself as the quickest ever assembled at Payson High, the group "has not come close to its potential," coach Hardt said.
Early on in the relay team's showing at Canyon, a victory seemed highly unlikely.
After the second leg, the fourth-place Lady Horns were struggling to stay in contention. But, a strong surge from Bennett during the third leg lifted the team to the runner-up spot behind Gilbert High.
Running as anchor, freshmen Whitney Hardt only a freshman put on a finishing kick that sent her soaring past Gilbert with about 200 meters remaining.
The youngster's hard-charging showing in the relay was only a prediction of good things to come. Later in the meet, she went on to win the 3,200 meters, finish second in the open 800 and third in the 1,600 meters.
In the course of about four hours, the youngster won medals in four arduous long-distance events. Also, her times in the 3,200 (11:26.40) and 1,600 (5:26.25) represent school record.
With three full seasons of prep competition awaiting her, Hardt sports the potential to become one of the state's if not the nation's best long-distance runners. Also, her presence in the Horn lineup gives the team another powerful weapon in its quest for a state title three-peat.
More Horns shine
Due to tendonitis in her leg, Martinez who usually stars in the sprints and triple jump participated in only the long jump. However, she won the event with a leap of 17 feet, 3 inches.
Also contributing to the Horn cause was Briauna Marshall who finished eighth in the 300-meter hurdles in a clocking of 50.8. Marshall entered the meet as the defending 400-meter champion, but opted not to participate in that run.
In the 400, the Horns were represented by Michelle Closs (7th; 64.2). The 4x400 relay team of Marshall, Jenny Cohen, Samantha Ellsworth and Bennett sped their way to a 4:23 clocking that was just one second shy of earning the group an outside qualifying berth into the state meet.
In the discus, Kaitlin Wilkins was seventh and Jocie Gressley eighth. Wilkins' throw was measured 96 feet, 2 1/2 inches and Gressley's 95 feet, 1/2 inch.
For the Horn boys team at North Canyon, only Sterling White compiled points. In the shot put, he uncorked a bronze-medal winning throw of 48 feet, 6 inches. A throw of 139 feet in the discus didn't earn him a medal, but was a personal record.
The Horns were originally slated to return to action tomorrow (Wednesday) at Phoenix Bourgade.
However, coach Hardt said he learned only last week that participation in the meet would be limited to just two PHS athletes in each event.
Hardt had hoped to use the Bourgade event as tuneup and training for all his athletes rather than a hand-
The coach is scouring the state trying to find an all-comers meet to replace the Bourgade Invitational.