Because it is one of the most prestigious meets in the state, the Chandler Invitational annually draws the best track and field teams regardless of school size classification from Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
This year, 55 schools, including Payson High School, are scheduled to participate.
Also in the field will be 4A and 5A powers representing metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson.
The presence of quality teams makes the Chandler meet more competitive than the Class 3A State Championships, PHS coach Chuck Hardt said.
With the invitational set for Saturday at Chandler High School, PHS track and field team members are preparing for a heated battle.
Hardt plans to enter a contingent of 13 boys and 17 girls in the competition that begins Saturday morning with individual heats, and wraps up late in the day with event finals.
Due to the high level of the competition, many of the local athletes especially the younger, untested team members will struggle to qualify for the finals.
Others, however, are legitimate threats to earn medals
Among those who could contend for honors are Whitney Hardt, Reanna Martinez, Sterling White and the Lady Horn 4x800 relay team.
By setting a new school record (9:58.44) early this season, the relay team stamped itself a threat to bring home the Chandler gold.
On the squad when it set the PHS mark at the North Canyon Invitational were Leighanne Haynes, Amy Davis, Brooke Bennett and Whitney Hardt.
In recent practices, junior Michelle Closs has made a run at earning herself a spot on the team. If Closs is to run her way onto the foursome, she would take over the second leg slot occupied by Davis.
According to coach Hardt, the decision of which athlete runs at Chandler will be decided in an open 800-meter runoff this week. The winner, Davis or Closs, will be rewarded with a spot on the relay team.
In the individual events, coach Hardt anticipates entering Whitney Hardt a freshman long-distance specialist in both the 800 and 1,600 meters. Although the talented youngster won the 3,200 at the North Canyon Invitational, the coach said he would most likely hold her out of that event to allow her to concentrate on the relay, 800 and 1,600.
Whitney enters the Chandler meet as the school record-holder in the 1,600 (5:26.25).
Been there, done that
Martinez is no stranger to Chandler, having competed there the past three seasons. But this spring she'll travel to the meet on the mend from a leg injury known as "jumper's knee."
The injury has slowed her in recent practices but, coaches say, she is gradually rounding into the form that made her one of the state's best long jumpers, triple jumpers and sprinters last season.
The coaching staff continues to mull over which events to enter Martinez. At press time, they were leaning toward the 4x100 relay, 100 meters and long jump. If she is entered into the 4x100, it will be to help the team earn an outside qualifying berth to the state meet.
Teams that meet certain minimum standards are automatically seeded into state, regardless of their showing in the regional qualifiers.
In Martinez's most recent long-jump outing at North Canyon she shrugged off the injury long enough to soar 17 feet, 3 inches and win the gold medal.
For most prep athletes, the leap would have been exceptional. But for Martinez, it was far short of the school record 18-feet, 6-inch mark she set in the East Regional championships last May.
In the boys competition at Chandler, the best threat from Payson to earn a medal is White a senior shot put and discus specialist.
In early season, White has toyed with the magical 50-foot mark, uncorking a throw of 49 feet, 9 inches at the Canyon State Cactus Classic early this month. In the discus, White finished second with an effort of 137 feet, 6 inches.
If he improves on both those marks, he should be a threat for a Chandler medal.
Coaches have not yet settled on which events other team members will enter, but some who could pose threats in Chandler include Briauna Marshall (300 meter hurdles), Brooke Bennett (800 meters) and Samantha Ellsworth (110 meter hurdles).
The fate of the Rotary Clubs Freshman Sophomore Invitational (April 21) and the five-way meet (April 25) remains in doubt.
For the meets the only home events of the season to occur as planned, construction of a retaining wall between the track and Wilson Dome must be completed.
The footing for the way is being laid this week.
According to PHS Athletic Director Dave Bradley, if the weather cooperates and the track dries, the wall could be finished before the meet dates.
If construction is not completed and the track readied, the events will be canceled, Bradley said.