When the AIA realigned high schools from the former region-conference format to one of divisions and sections, the switch rendered winning a state title much more difficult because the seven former conferences shrunk to four divisions and the number of teams in each section became much larger that what existed in the former regions. Also, smaller schools, like Payson, are now often pitted against schools with much larger student body counts.
In other words, the competition was ratcheted up several notches.
The change hit Payson hard in girls track and field as the best the Lady Horns could do at the 2011 championships last spring was a 25th place of 33 Division III teams.
But the 2012 season could yield a different scenario, as the Lady Horn cupboard appears well stocked.
“We have a lot of talent coming back as our top-three point scorers all return as well as eight of our top-nine scorers from last season,” said coach Jonathan Ball.
“All eight of those girls scored over 20 points last season.”
Morgan Chilson is the top point producer among those returning. Last season she was a state qualifier in the 100, 200, 400, 4x100 and 4x400 events.
In the 100 and 200 she was a state finalist and at season’s end received an invitation to compete in the prestigious Meet of Champions.
Although she was limited to seven meets due to an injury, she contributed a team-high 109 points to the Lady Horn cause.
With another season of maturing and experience and plenty of practice to improve her starts, Chilson is expected to become one of the state’s best this year.
Lydia Galster also returns after receiving a Meet of Champions invitation and qualifying for state in the 800 meters and 4x800.
Jaymi Carlen, a hard-nosed, multi-talented athlete, returns in the pole vault, 4x100 and 4x400 events she excelled last season as a state qualifier.
Janelle Hauptman picked up plenty of experience at last year’s state meet in the pole vault and 4x100 relay to use in her pursuit of even more honors this season.
State qualifier Bailey Patterson returns, Ball said, “with a lot of confidence” in the 400 and 4x100.
Logan Conway and Sarah Cluff are returnees in the 4x800.
Ball is expecting two Lady Horns who did not make state last season to this spring become a force.
“Danya Svir and Beth Sprinkle had very solid season last year and have a chance to make an impact again,” he said.
Svir will compete in the high jump and 200 meters and Sprinkle in the high jump and hurdles.
The coach also predicts there are several newcomers who will contribute.
They include Sage Pearce (distance), Macy Dailey (distance), Erin Huffman (distance), Harley Turney (sprints), Jamie Chilson (sprints) and Joelle Huffman (sprints and hurdles).
All Lady Horn team members, returning state qualifiers, letter winners and newcomers, have been practicing the past few weeks preparing for the Queen Creek Desert Classic season-opening meet on March 3.
Thus far, Ball is pleased with what he sees from the girls. “This team has been very willing to get out there and try and make improvements.
“We have had some cold weather, yet have had very little complaining.”
Among the team strengths Ball and his staff are acknowledging are good leadership from the veterans and improved speed over last year.
“I would not be surprised if the girls 4x100 school record (51.24) fell. We were close last year and have three of those girls back,” said Ball.
Morgan Chilson, Janelle Huaptman and Carlen are the relay team’s returnees. Jamie Chilson, Joelle Huffman, Svir and Turney all have the quickness to become the fourth member.
“They will be pushing for a spot on that team,” Ball predicts. “We have added a lot of speed.”
The team also appears to be solid in the jumps and possibly one of the state’s best in pole vaulting, however, it is short of girls to compete in the throws event.
“We may need Jaymi Carlen to move over to throwing for a few meets,” said Ball.
While Ball carries the title of head coach, he’s assembled a staff of assistants that ranks with the best in the division.
Returning assistants include Bo Althoff (pole vault), April Quinlan (discus/pole vault), Amy Wilcox (sprints) and Mary McMullen (high jump).
Althoff was the best pole vaulter in PHS history and continues to hold the school record.
Quinlan is a PHS alumnus who shined in track and field and soccer during her prep years.
Wilcox is the Lady Longhorn head soccer coach and was a three-sport star at Payson High.
McMullen has been enshrined in her high school’s sports hall of fame and was once a high jumper on the University of Washington track team.
New this year on the staff are Cheryl Woodall (distance), Doug Eckhardt (hurdles), Ryan Hintze (jumps) and Logan Garner (throws).
“I am very excited about this group of coaches,” said Ball. “They are very high quality and help the program immensely.”