The Longhorn boys track and field team young, untested and undermanned all season rode the exploits of a trio of athletes to a commendable state ninth-place finish.
The three Sterling White, Blake Whetten and Chris Donaldson scored all of the Horns' 53 points at the Class 3A championships last weekend in Chandler.
Safford (138) claimed the title over runner-up Rio Rico (92) and third-place finisher Globe (69). In the hotly contested two-day meet, only 16 points separated the second- and ninth-place teams.
While the PHS boys' showing didn't equal the Lady Longhorns' gold-medal performance in Chandler, the top-10 finish goes down as a gutsy effort considering the team relied on only three medalists.
White, a senior, blossomed into the Horns' top gun by winning two gold medals in the throws. Whetten finished as a high jump runner-up and Donaldson was a silver medalist in the hurdles.
In the shot-put, White the school record-holder uncorked a winning heave of 53 feet 6 inches that turned out to be the only 50-foot-plus mark of the meet. Second-place finisher D.J. Michaels of Blue Ridge one of White's biggest rivals all season threw 49 feet, 10 inches.
In the discus, White's throw of 139 feet, 1 inch earned him a gold medal over Chino Valley's Matt Adams, who had a 138 feet, 11 inch effort.
Whetten turned in probably the most surprising showing of the meet, clearing 6 feet 6 inches in the high jump. Only Show Low's Josh Sprung (6 feet, 8 inches) surpassed Whetten.
A junior at Payson High, Whetten is in his first year of track and field competition. His inexperience, coupled with the fact he was slowed by shin splints in spring practices, made his medal-winning performance in Chandler more than a pleasant surprise for the Payson coaching staff.
Not since the early '90s when Darren Reid was soaring over 7 feet, have the Longhorns boasted a state gold-medal winning high jumper.
"By far, he's the best (since Darren)," PHS coach Chuck Hardt said.
With another season of prep eligibility and a full year to train, coaches say Whetten has only scratched the surface of his potential.
"He could become a really good one," Hardt said. "It depends on what he does in the off season."
Also at state, Donaldson turned in an impressive effort for a relatively unheralded Longhorn athlete. By finishing third in the 300-meter hurdles, the sophomore stamped himself one of the up-and-coming hurdlers on the Arizona prep track scene. His time of 42.28 kept him hot in the spikes of runner-up Jose Gonzales (41.55) and event champion Kenny Halstead (40.63). Gonzales attends Coolidge High School and Halstead is from Dysart.
Donaldson's hard-nosed efforts throughout the season caught the attention of the coaching staff.
"I really learned a lot about him," the coach said. "He came out of nowhere to become very good."
With the high school season at an end, the young athletes have the option of participating in Junior Olympic amateur competition around the state. Some also will be invited to all-star meets.