The burden of winning a fourth consecutive 3A state girls track and field state championship might fall squarely on the shoulders of two distance runners, a sprinter and a trio of relay teams.
All of those which include Whitney Hardt, Leighann Haynes, Michelle Closs and the 400-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter relay teams are currently ranked among the 3A conference's best.
According to the most recent rankings from the Arizona Track Coaches Association, Hardt is the 3A's No. 1 runner in the 800- (2:20.1), 1,600- (5:04.13) and 3,200-meter runs (11:07.90).
In the ATCA rankings for athletes representing all school classifications, 1A through 5A, Hardt's clockings in the 800 and 3,200 meters are rated second. Her time in the 1,600 meters is the state's best this season.
Among the 3A athletes, Closs is top-ranked in the 400 meters with a time of 60.99.
Both the Lady Horns' 1,600- (4:22.04) and 3,200-meter relay teams (9:51.80) are rated best among the 3A teams.
Payson's 400-meter relay team shares the top spot with Queen Creek. Both have turned in ETs of 52.4.
Haynes is currently ranked second in the Class 3A 800- (2:20.1), 1,600- (5:23.23) and 3,200-meter (11:49.96) events.
Amy Davis holds down a second place conference ranking in the pole vault with a leap of 8 feet 6 inches.
If the Lady Longhorns are to make a serious charge at a state title when the finals are held May 10 and 11 at Mesa Mountain View, Hardt, Haynes, Closs, Davis and the relay teams will be counted on to pile up the team points. Due to their excellent showings in the early season, all have met pre-qualifying standards for the state championships, which means they are automatically seeded into the finals and won't have to earn a berth at the East regional qualifying meet May 3 and 4 in Lakeside.
In addition to that top-ranked crew, the Lady Horns have several other athletes who have turned in efforts that rate among the best of the year.
In the 400-meter dash, Jenny Cohen's clocking of 63.0 is the fourth best in the state.
Shay McGee's 17.6 in the 110-meter hurdles is currently ranked fourth, as is her high jump of 4 feet 8 inches.
Shay's sister, Rachelle McGee, is ranked fifth in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 17.6.
Other Lady Horns who hold down positions in the top 10 include Haylee Huff (100 meters, 13.99 and high jump, 4 feet 8 inches), Hillari Hardt (discus, 95 feet 6 inches) and Sarah Hummer (discus, 93 feet 10 inches).
Although the Longhorn boys track team has not pre-qualified an athlete for state, the squad does sport several tracksters who have turned in top-10 Class 3A performances this season. They include Danny Malloy (400 meters, sixth, 54.03), Joe Behren (1,600, ninth, 4:57.96), Dusty Rogers (1,600, 10th, 4:59.79), Chris Donaldson (110 hurdles, ninth, 16:54), Lucas Schmidt (shot-put, second, 46 feet 6 inches and discus, fourth, 129 feet 5 inches), Blake Whetten (high jump, second, 6 feet 2 inches and long jump, fifth, 19 feet 3 inches) and Alex Cassuto (pole vault, third, 12 feet 6 inches).
Also, the Horns 400-meter relay team is second-ranked in 3A with a time of 45. 3. The only quicker time (44.82) was turned in by Sahuarita.
Athletes who do not meet minimum prequalifying standards must finish among the top-four at the regional meet to earn a berth to the state championships.