Hardt Named Coach Of Year

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There's another "Coach of the Year" plaque to hang on the family room wall in the Hardt home.

Chuck Hardt's most recent award came May 19 during Arizona Coaches Association ceremonies at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Mesa.

There, Hardt was tapped Arizona's 2001 Cross Country Coach of the Year for leading the Lady Longhorns to the state championship last fall.

That award is another in a long list of citations Hardt has garnered for being the outstanding coach in both the East region and 3A conference.

Last fall, Hardt coached Payson to the first cross-country state championship in the history of the school. That win apparently influenced ACA members enough to select him as their coach of the year.

Although the Lady Horns were talented, the upset victory at state came as a complete surprise in prep sports circles.

Most had penciled in Tuba City or Ganado as the 3A state champions because both schools had beaten Payson in regular season meetings.

Tuba City, the defending state champions during the regular season, whipped the Lady Horns on four different occasions.

Prior to the state finale, which was held at Anthem near Phoenix, Hardt gathered his runners and told them, "there was no pressure, nobody expects anything from us."

The result, Hardt said, "was they ran as sharp as I've ever seen them."

When the final point totals were in, Payson was the surprising champ with a meet-low 53 points. Hopi (65), Ganado (77), Tuba City (90), Window Rock (111) and Alchesay (143) trailed in the standings. All five schools represented Native American reservation schools where long distance running is a way of life.

During his eight-year tenure as coach and founder of the PHS cross country team, Hardt was able to elevate the sport to a level where his athletes were able to compete with the talented and dedicated Hopi, Navajo and Apache runners. Not many coaches in the history of Arizona cross country have accomplished that feat.

In winning the state championship, Hardt relied heavily on the services of his niece, Whitney Hardt. Turning in an 18:28 clocking on a 3.3-mile course, the sophomore speedster easily won the individual state championship.

But cross-country titles are not won by individuals. Hardt has long preached the value of teamwork and "pack running" in his program. The coach received just that type of effort from the six other team members.

In the field of 104, Leighann Haynes was eighth and Lily Flores tenth.

Michelle Closs finished 13th, Shalynn McGee was 22nd, and Amy Davis crossed the finish line 34th. Rounding out the Lady Horn effort was Rachelle McGee with a 54th place showing.

From that state championship team, Haynes, Closs, Davis and McGee will graduate with the class of 2002.

Although it will be tough for the coach to replace those runners, he has athletes coming into the program who could become stellar performers. Among them is freshman Tanya Davis who says she will be trying out for the team for the first time next fall.

Whitney Hardt's younger sister, Kari, will be a freshman next fall. On the junior high sports scene this spring, she's proven herself to be a highly talented runner who with more experience could compete with the state's best next season.

Those new runners and the talented crew of veterans returning could mean that next year at this time, Hardt will again be scooping up a coach of the year award.

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