Armed with a veteran laden roster that could be among the deepest in recent Lady Longhorn track and field history, the PHS squad is chomping at the bit for a stretch run at East Region and 3A state honors.
“At least we hope we can; we have some athletes we think can do it,” said coach Jonathan Ball.
Optimism among the players and coaching staff is fueled by the presence of a solid corps of seasoned letter winners including Maddie Nossek, Holly West, Kyndel Lann, Katie Welker, Jacquelyn Oesterblad, Sarah Cluff and Lucy Schouten.
Throughout the season, Ball and his six-person coaching staff will be mixing and matching athletes in their events in an attempt to place them where they can best help the team when the East regionals are held May 7-8 and the state tournament May 13 to 15.
In other words, the regular season will mostly be a testing ground for the big shows.
As for all-important team leadership, Nossek will undoubtedly shoulder that role as well as take on a variety of duties including the high jump, long jump and the 100 and 200 meters.
She is also expected to pole vault, an event in which the Lady Horns were not particularly strong last season when compared to the likes of East rival Blue Ridge.
Nossek, at the 2009 state meet, won the high jump, was third in both the 400 meters and long jump and was fifth in the 200 meters.
She also begins this season as the defending East Region champion in the long jump, 200 meters and 400 meters.
With another year of seasoning and maturity, she is expected to be even better this season.
Coaches have penciled West in as Payson’s entry in the throws, specifically the shot put and discus.
Last year at the very competitive Lupe Acevado Relays in Lakeside, she was third in both events and a point producer most of the season.
West begins track and field fresh off a successful basketball season in which she was one of the Lady Horns stronger rebounders and inside players.
Lann has been an all-around performer for the Lady Horns running a leg on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams and an entry in the open 400. This season, she brings to the PHS table a reputation as a fine all-around athlete having been named last fall an all-region honorable mention soccer player.
Welker is also a seasoned athlete having played basketball last season and was a member of the Lady Longhorns 4x400 relay team that ran to second in the 2009 East championships.
She could also be an entry this season in the open 400.
Oesterblad was Payson’s top cross-country runner last fall and as a senior should be a track and field medal contender in any race “800 meters and up,” assistant coach Chuck Yale predicts.
Cluff is expected to be one of PHS’s finest middle distance runners having shined in 2009 as an 800-meter entry and on relay teams.
Schouten, a senior, gives the Lady Horns a strong entry in the long distance runs. This spring, coaches are considering prepping her for participation on relay teams.
“She is actually quite fast,” Ball said.
During the 2009 cross-country season, Schouten finished a commendable 54th in the 100-plus field of qualifiers.
Schouten is a heady student-athlete, having been recently named a prestigious National Merit Scholar finalist.
That’s a real plus since it’s a well-known fact high school coaches love to have on their team intelligent athletes.
Schouten certainly fits that bill.
While the Lady Horns have a solid foundation of veterans to build upon, the 42-person roster also contains several newcomers capable of contributing to the varsity cause.
They include Morgan Chilson, Jayme Carlen and Finnish foreign exchange student Laura Aaltonen.
Chilson is the daughter of former PHS three-sport star Ty Chilson, who in 1986 and 1987 was the premier sprinter in the conference while also playing baseball.
He’s one of the last student-athletes allowed to play both sports in the same school year.
He also was a standout running back on the 1986 state runner-up football team.
If Morgan, a freshman, can equal her father’s accomplishments, the Lady Horns have a top-notch sprinter for the next four seasons.
On the occasions Morgan teams with Nossek in the 100 or 200, PHS will have a 1-2 sprinting punch not enjoyed for decades.
Carlen proved she was a talented athlete during the past basketball season earning a varsity starting slot as only a sophomore.
“She is a good, all around athlete who can do a lot of things for us,” said Ball.
Aaltonen is the third prong in the Lady Longhorns’ youth movement and is being counted on to run in the 200 and 400 meters.
Ball calls her “very athletic” and predicts she will be a solid performer especially after she gains more experience.
A real plus for the Lady Horns, in addition to the veteran roster, is a coaching staff that is among the finest in the 3A conference.
Ball is in his second year as head coach but brings to the program years of experience at his former high school in New Mexico.
Yale, a retired coach and athletic director from New York, is as knowledgeable as any coach in the state and is not shy about volunteering the hours upon hours it takes to mold a contending track and field team.
This year, Ball added former PHS track coach Chuck Hardt to the staff as a part-timer specializing in the long and triple jumps. Hardt is a legend in track and field circles and his presence lends an air of credibility to the program.
In the throws, former PHS and Northern Arizona University star Jeremy Hoff is on board to share his considerable expertise.
In 2003, Hoff was one of the finest collegiate shot putters in the nation with throws approaching 60 feet.
He also excelled in the discus on the national level.
Amy Wilcox, a former Lady Horn star in track, soccer and basketball, joins the staff specializing in the sprints.
Former PHS pole vaulter and soccer standout April Quinlan, wife of football and basketball assistant coach Byron Quinlan, is set to work with pole vaulters as will Bo Althoff.
Boosters will remember Althoff as a football, basketball and track star in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
As a senior he was one of the nation’s finest vaulters, setting school and state records that remain in tact.
The tracksters open the season March 2 at the Northland Prep Academy Classic in the Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Yale expects the meet to be a good early season test for the Lady Horns, “Most of the 3A North will be there as will Sedona and the East teams.”