Girls' Track Tries For 4th State Title

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The Payson High School track and field teams ran, jumped and threw their way to first- and third-place finishes in the East regional championships Saturday in Lakeside.

Gold honors were garnered by the Lady Longhorns who racked up 177 points to easily outdistance runner-up Snowflake (145).

The win was the fifth consecutive regional title for the PHS girls.

In the boys' competition, the Longhorns compiled 126 1/2 points to finish as bronze medalists behind East champion Snowflake (171 1/2) and runner-up Blue Ridge (139).

In addition to earning a pair of trophy-winning team finishes, the PHS squads produced two "East Athlete of the Year" awards winners Whitney Hardt and Alex Cassuto.

Coaches tapped Hardt best of the female competitors after she set meet records in the 800- (2: 23.51), 1,600- (5:16.91) and 3,200-meter (11:52.12) runs.

Cassuto was chosen outstanding among the male participants for winning the pole vault with an effort of 13 feet, 6 inches.

Contributing to his selection was the fact that regional coaches were well aware that just more than a year ago Cassuto suffered a leg injury that originally was thought severe enough to end his athletic career.

After the accident at Roosevelt Lake, in which a boat propeller almost severed his entire foot, Cassuto worked diligently to rehabilitate the foot and return to track and field.

No one was more impressed by Cassuto's dedication than PHS throws coach Pete Greer.

"It was a courageous comeback," he said.

High jumper Blake Whetten also shined on the PHS boys team. Clearing 6 foot, 6 inches, Whetten's gold-medal effort tied the East regional meet record as well as his personal best, set last season.

Cassuto and Whetten were the only two Longhorns to win individual East championships.

Among the Lady Longhorns, only Hardt was an individual regional champ. However, both the 4x800 and 4x100 relay teams ran their way to gold-medal honors.

On the 4x800 were Kelsea Palace, Shaleen Holmes, Haylee Huff and Amy Davis. Members of the 4x100 were Huff, Davis, Michelle Closs and Megan Branstetter.

The individuals and relay teams that finished among the top four at the regional meet qualified for the state championship showdown May 10 and 11 at Mesa Mountain View. There, the Lady Horns will battle for their fourth consecutive Class 3A state championship.

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