Rio Rico -- the South region's fourth-place finisher -- tallied 81 points to propel the school's track and field team to the Class 3A state boys championship over runner-up Globe (76) and bronze medalist Payson (69.5).
Because the team was a lowly fourth place seed to state, Rio Rico's state title was a huge surprise to many coaches, fans and athletes.
But not to PHS coach Chuck Hardt.
"Before the state meet, we knew they were tough," he said.
Rio Rico may have held some athletes who had already qualified for state from the South meet, Hardt said. That would account for the team's less than stellar showing in the regional showdown.
The Longhorns entered the state competition May 16 and 17 at Queen Creek High School with enough qualifiers to be a title contender. But for Payson to win its first boys track championship since 1990, all the team members needed to turn in personal best efforts.
That did not happen.
Pitted against the best track and field athletes in the state, the Longhorns did not win a single goal medal and were shut out in the triple jump, long jump and 400-meter run.
The closest the Horns could come to individual titles were silver medals in the 800 meters, high jump and pole vault.
Joe Behrens ran his way to a second-place finish in the 800. His clocking of 1:59.39 was about four seconds off the pace of champion Eric Chavez of Rio Rico.
In the high jump, Nick Cassuto and Jake Swartwood both cleared 6 feet, 2 inches to tie for second.
The event champ, Sam Turner of Safford jumped 6 feet, 4 inches.
Alex Cassuto tied for second in the pole vault with a mark of 14 feet.
Safford's Kade Good cleared 14 feet, 6 inches to win the event crown.
Longhorn distance star Tanner Morgan posted a sixth-place finish in the 1,600 meters (4:35.38) and was seventh in the 3,200 meters (10:04.76).
Senior Chris Donaldson also had a pair of top-10 finishes with a third-place effort in the 300-meter hurdles (40:55) and a fifth place in the 100 hurdles (15:45).
Lucas Schmidt was third in the discus (152 feet, 11 inches) and seventh in the shot put (47 feet).
Sprinter Darryl LeSueur sped his way to a third-place showing in the 100 meters (11:46) and was sixth in the 200 (23.26).
Senior Matt McCarty's fifth place in the pole vault (12 feet) rounded out the Horns individual efforts.
In the 4x800 relay, the Payson team of Brian Langeliers, Behrens, Morgan and Dustin Rodgers ran its way to second-place honors (8:20:44) behind Rio Rico (8:09.99). The 4x400 relay foursome (Luke Apfel, Donaldson, Josh Sprinkle and LeSueur) was seventh (3:36:14).
The 4x100 sprint crew also comprised of Apfel, Donaldson, Sprinkle and LeSueur took eighth.
With the 2003 season and the state meet now in the history books, all that remains for the tracksters is the annual season-ending awards ceremony.
Tomorrow (Saturday) many of the standouts will graduate from PHS with the Class of 2003. Among the graduating seniors are Swartwood, Donaldson, Schmidt, McCarty, Nick Cassuto and Alex Cassuto.
Other state results
May 16-17, Queen Creek
Men 1600-Meter Run
13th, Dustin Rodgers, 4:46.26
14th, Brian Langeliers, 4:48.10
Men 800-Meter Run
15th, Dustin Rodgers, 2:12.38