Rain Ends, Track Team Picks Up Steam

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Payson High School track and field coaches breathed a huge sigh of relief Monday when the weather finally cleared enough to allow the team to go through a complete outdoor workout.

Since the onset of preseason training in early February, the practice sessions have been limited due to inclement weather and a wet track.

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Payson High School junior Luke Apfel (left) and Longhorn track and field teammates go through a series of warm-up exercises prior to a practice session. The Longhorns open the track season March 2 in Flagstaff.

"We are not too sure what we have yet because of the lack of dry, warm weather," assistant coach Chuck Yale said.

If there is any certainty on the very young team, which hasn't practiced much, it is the presence of junior sprinter Luke Apfel, who turned in a stellar 2004 season.

Apfel had one of the best showings of his sophomore year at the Buckeye Invitational where he won the 100 meters (11:65) and was second in the 200 (22:93). Later in the spring, he anchored the Longhorns 4x400 meter relay team to the Grand Canyon region championship and a ninth place finish in the highly competitive 4A state championships.

Apfel returns to the Longhorn fold with two full years of varsity experience and God-given speed that could help him become one of the Grand Canyon region's best.

On the team, Apfel is one five track and field veterans head coach Chuck Hardt can call upon for all-important team leadership.

The others include Wellington Cassuto, Krystal McRae, Brian Schwind and Tracy Fitzpatrick.

Cassuto excels in the throws events, McRae is a top notch hurdler, Schwind competes in the jumps and Fitzpatrick draws double duty in the 400 meters and the jumps.

Last season Cassuto and Schwind help lift the Longhorns to the Grand Canyon region championship. In the state meet, Cassuto finished ninth in the discus with a throw of 135 feet.

Also at state, Fitzpatrick was 23rd in the triple jump with a leap of 30 feet 1 3/4 inches.

In addition to returning veterans with regional and state championship experience, the PHS coaching staff has several letter winners to call upon. The juniors include Todd Kreimeyer, (400 meters and hurdles), Branden Echols (sprints), David Cluff (distance), Trent Hubbard (pole vault), Amy Buckner (sprints), Alesha Huddlestun (distances) and Samantha Elliott, (distances).

Sophomores Carlos Lopez (distance) and Melissa McLaws (jumps) picked up considerable experience as freshmen and will be counted on to contribute in their events.

According to Yale, newcomers who turn heads includeophomores Carlan Pontious and Bryson Addington in the distance runs and seniors Erik Monty and Kyle Pugel in the jumps.

Pontious transferred to PHS from Wisconsin last summer and almost immediately showed he had the ability to become among the best 1600 and 3200 meter runs in the region.

As a first-year member of the cross country team -- after adjusting to the higher Rim country altitudes -- he became the Horns finest long distance runner.

Among his best showings were a first place finish at the Sludge to the Judge homecoming run on Main Street, a second place at the Queen Creek Invitational and at the Fountain Hills Invitational he was fifth.

With the lineup just now taking shape, the Longhorn boys are ready to pit their skills against several tough GCR foes.

"The Page boys look very strong, Yale said. "And so do the Coconino sprinters."

The Lady Horns must battle a Flagstaff Eagle squad that appears destined to repeat its championship of last year.

"Their girls should be the class of the region again this year," Yale predicts.

Both the PHS boys and girls teams open the season at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. On hand to compete will be most of the Grand Canyon region schools.

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