A trio of region championship teams are itching to deny the Longhorns boys track and field team its second successive Class 3A Arizona State championship.
The state title hopefuls eager to end the Horns' reign include Estrella Foothills from the West, South champion Safford and Winslow, the North's No. 1 seed.
Among those regional gold medalists, Safford appears to be well-stocked with athletes, having defeated runner-up Seton Catholic, by a 177-126 margin in the South championships held in Safford.
Estrella is a relative newcomer to the 3A Conference, but managed to post 169 points to win the West title. Sedona Red Rock finished as silver medalist.
Winslow advances as the region champion, having nipped second place Monument Valley and bronze medalist Tuba City for the North crown.
Among Payson's most accomplished qualifiers is senior long-distance stalwart Carlan Pontious, who won three gold medals and a bronze in the East region championships.
In the 1600 meters, which Pontious won in 4:41.91, the Payson speedster's greatest competition could come from Chinle's Curley Ramero. In winning the North title, Ramero was timed at 4:36.49.
Globe's Kurt Nowak captured the South gold in 4:41.70 and Chino Valley's Larry Hermance ran away with the West title in 4:49.19.
Pontious will also enter the state meet as the East 800-meter champ in 2:05.10.
Once again, Chinle's Ramero will be Pontious' biggest threat, having sped to the North title in a very swift 1:57.58.
Nowak emerged from the South competition as the event titlist in 2:02.72.
Freshman Jesus Rivera captured the West crown in 2:05.59.
Based on the four region champions' clockings, the 800 meters could turn into one of the most hotly contested races of the state championships.
Of course, the times can be a bit misleading, because athletes are entered in multiple events and -- in an effort to preserve strength and energy -- perform only to the level needed to win or qualify for state.
In the throws
Just as Pontious is a force to reckon with, Morgan Cassuto could be a threat to supply first-place team points. The senior won the East shot put title with a toss of 51-feet, .25 inches.
Wickenburg senior Scott McKeever, who took the West title with a heave of 53 feet, 1 inch, could be Cassuto's stiffest competition at state.
The North appears to the undermanned in the shot put since it took a throw of only 43 feet, 1.5 inches for Winslow's David Young to win the title.
With an effort of 46-feet, 6.5 inches, Santa Cruz's Jason Tidwell captured first in the South finals.
The Longhorns also have an East gold medalist entered in the discus throw.
Nick Ford won the crown with a mark of 148 feet, 8 inches.
The senior must go head-to-head at state against West discus champ Scott McKeever and South titlist Matt Polowski.
McKeever took the region title by throwing 174 feet, 4 inches. Polowski uncorked a toss of 152 feet to claim the South crown.
The North event champion, Kirk Jasper of Tuba City, threw 113 feet, 7 inches.
The state finals tip off at 5 p.m. today, Friday, with the field events.
Beginning at 5:45 p.m., preliminaries and finals in relay, distance and sprint events will be held.
The championships resume tomorrow at 5 p.m. with finals in most all events.
Along with the 3A championships, the Class 1A title games will be held concurrently.