Now that the Arizona Interscholastic Association has done away with the conference-region format and replaced it with a division-section configuration, Lady Longhorn track and field members will find much stiffer competition in the season-ending “state” or Division III meet that begins today at Mesa Community College.
The jump in competition levels is because schools the size of Payson High, 788 students, are now aligned in D-III alongside schools with much larger student bodies and consequently more student-athletes to draw from.
For example, in D-III are Tempe (1,443), Youngker (1,439), Rio Rico (1,236), Mingus (1,260), Flagstaff (1,641) and others.
All are former Class 4A schools.
In the now defunct 3A conference format, the Horns would have not have faced in the state tournament any schools with more than 960 students.
But it is what it is, and the Lady Horns must be at their competitive finest to match up well against some of their “big school” foes.
Among the Lady Horns who has to be on fire to return home to Payson with a medal is sophomore speedster Morgan Chilson.
She’s won many 100- and 200-meter titles the past two seasons, but in the D-III championships her 100-meter qualifying time of 12.96 is just seventh best.
Estrella Foothills’ Jasmin Pratt is the top-ranked sprinter at 12.30.
Higley sports a pair of speedsters in Kenesah Coleman (12.44) and Darreyl Woodson (12.66) who are rated second and third fastest.
In the 200 meters, Chilson’s time of 27.08 is 11th best in D-III.
Pratt is once again top ranked with a sizzling 24.99.
Estrella teammate Shea Grant is second ranked at 25.92.
While it’s a given the battle for medals at Mesa CC will be akin to a junk yard dog fight, what remains hazy is the D-III or state meet qualifying system.
Because the system has never been used before in Arizona, there are some kinks being worked out, but it appears athletes who scored top-24 marks in their events and certain meets around Arizona earn berths to the division championship.
“That’s the way I understand it,” said PHS assistant coach Chuck Yale, a former prep track coach and athletic administrator in New York state.
The AIA has issued a so-called “performance list” of the top 24 marks in D-III competition this season and it contains the names and marks of several Lady Longhorns.
Among them is the 4x100 relay team of Janelle Hauptman, Jaymi Carlen, Katelyn Cordell and Chilson.
Their time of 52.19 is the ninth-fastest run this season in D-III.
A Higley foursome is top ranked at 49.84.
In the 800 meters, Lydia Galster has qualified with a time of 2:28.03 that is 15th fastest.
Ashley Kealamakiz of Liberty is top seeded at 2:13.78.
The Lady Longhorn 4x400 relay team of Bailey Patterson, Cordell, Carlen and Chilson has qualified for state with a 16th-rated ET of 4:24.06.
But to be in the medal mix, Payson must outrun the top-ranked Sahurita team that has turned in a very swift 4:09.65.
Cordell has also earned a D-III berth in the 300-meter hurdles with a 20th-rated time of 51.29.
In the pole vault, Carlen qualifies with a mark of 8 feet, but in the field will be two standout Mingus vaulters. Cortney Hageman has gone 10 feet, 6 inches and Stephanie Gilboy has a PR of 10 feet.
Unless the AIA’s performance list changes soon, the Lady Horns will not have qualifiers in the 100-meter hurdles, 1600 meters, triple jump, discus, 3200 meters, high jump, long jump and shot put.