Young Woman Of The Year Sparkles On The Diamond

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Hilary Armenta's accomplishments on the softball diamond have earned her the praise of high school and club coaches and players from around the state.

But not many know the Payson High School senior is also a contributor to her school and community in a myriad of other ways.

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Hilary Armenta has made a name for herself in the Arizona softball world over a number of years and plans to continue in the sport in college. Her goal is to become a physical therapist and athletic trainer.

During her sophomore and junior years, she was an active member of Interact -- the high school version of the Rotary service club.

"I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot," Armenta said.

She also served as student body treasurer for a school year, is co-editor of the PHS yearbook and an honor student.

Last fall, she stepped up to volunteer her services as assistant coach of the Rim Country Middle School seventh-grade girls softball team.

Coaching, she said, gave her a new perspective on the sport she has been involved in since middle school.

"It (coaching) is not as easy as it might look to some," she said.

In the classroom, Armenta has drawn the praise of teachers and administrators as being a well-rounded, cooperative and contributing student.

"She's a good one, enjoyable in class," American History teacher Dennis Pirch said.

PHS assistant principal/athletic director Dave Bradley agreed, "She's a great choice for Young Woman of the Year; she's accomplished a lot since she's been here (at PHS)."

Known by fellow students as a gregarious, upbeat teen, Armenta serves on campus as a role model for younger students still searching for ways to succeed in high school.

"I try to help others if I can," she said.

Armenta also holds down a part-time job as recreation leader at the Town of Payson Parks and Recreation Department.

There she has drawn the praise of her supervisor, Recreation Specialist Charlene Hunt.

"She is a great role model and the kind of person you want young girls to be around," Hunt said.

As well liked and accomplished as Armenta is on campus and in the community, it is softball that draws most of her attention.

"I enjoy doing lots of things, but softball is what I think I do best," she said.

Armenta first captured the attention of Rim Country softball fans in 2001 as an RCMS eighth grader. In a game against Winslow, she threw out three opponents trying to steal second base.

Only weeks later in a win over Blue Ridge, she again shone behind the plate and sparked the offense with two singles and a double.

Her accomplishments at RCMS eventually helped earn her a slot --s a raw untested freshman --n the Lady Horn varsity.

When her prep career wraps up later this season, she will depart the program, having accomplished the very rare feat of earning four varsity letters.

During her freshman and sophomore seasons, Armenta drew the daunting task of catching two of the finest pitchers to ever don a Lady Horn uniform, Rachel Ray and Brenna Zumbro.

As challenging as it was corralling the two's sizzling fast balls, change-ups and drop and rise pitches, she did it with the skill of a veteran player.

Following her junior season, Armenta was one of just two Lady Longhorns named to the Class 4A All-Grand Canyon Region first team.

Then-coach Will Dunman lauded her as the finest catcher in the region, saying her expert handling of hurlers and ability to handle pitches out of the strike zone made her an invaluable cog in the Lady Horn defense.

In addition to her work behind the plate, Armenta was an offensive threat, pounding out three home runs. The mark was second on the team only to her younger sister Hannah.

Last summer, Armenta took the final step on the road to becoming a college prospect -- she decided to devote her energies to playing highly competitive off-season club softball.

Playing on the Valley-based Storm 18-years-and-under team, she performed with the same fervor and zest she did as a Lady Horn.

This season at PHS, Armenta has returned to her familiar catching position, but must now shoulder the added burden of being a senior leader who is counted on to spark the team's quest for excellence.

Thus far, she has done just that, leading the Lady Horns to a fourth place finish at the Wickenburg Invitational tournament.

Coaches there recognized her accomplishments and named her to the all-tournament team.

Following Armenta's selection, PHS coach Curtis Johnson lauded her, saying, "Hilary turned in a stellar performance at catcher and continued her successful hitting with a .500 batting average."

Following her graduation this spring, Armenta plans on continuing her softball career at Mesa College where she will major in physical therapy and athletic training.

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