Expectations are high among boys track team members and their coaches, even though the roster number of 26 athletes is not great.
“We have a lot of punch in a few boys this year,” said coach Jonathan Ball. “It can be a very exciting year.”
In the contingent that turned out, Keith Williams is being tabbed the athlete with the most potential to make noise in the season-ending Division III state tournament.
“He put in a spectacular offseason going to several pole vault camps, including the most prestigious one in the nation,” said Ball. “Based on what he has done at camps and a few offseason meets, it looks like Keith will not only contend for a state title, but be one of the best vaulters in the state, regardless of (school) classification.”
Last year, Williams had a banner campaign in which he was the only PHS athlete, boy or girl, to record a D-III best mark.
He set the standard of 14 feet, 3 inches in the pole vault on May 7 at the Last Chance Invitational in Snowflake.
A week later at the state meet, Williams struggled, clearing just 13 feet, 9 inches to finish a disappointing eighth among 19 D-III qualifiers.
It is probably a stretch to think that this season Williams can threaten Bo Althoff’s school pole vault record of 16 feet, 5-3/4 inches, but he has the coaching needed to make a run at it — Althoff is the PHS pole vault coach today.
In the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, Kyle Reake gives the Longhorns yet another threat to win a state title.
“If Kyle dedicates himself, he can be a contender in both hurdle events,” Ball said.
In 2011, Raeke qualified for the D-III championships in the 300-meter hurdles, but his time in the preliminaries of 42.17 wasn’t fast enough to earn him a berth into the finals.
He also ran on the 4x400 relay that qualified for state and finished 12th in the finals.
This year, Raeke could again be a member of a relay team, “He could help us in the 4x400,” Ball said.
Bubba Nielson, Logan Morris, Cameron Romance, Levi Sopeland and Austin Shannon also return to the team from last season.
Nielson will high jump, Morris will enter the high jump and 4x400 relay and Romance is penciled in on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.
Sopeland and Shannon are both pole vaulters.
The coach is also predicting that Payson Bobier, Isom White and Michael Anderson could be big contributors to the Horn cause.
“Payson has a chance to impact the season,” Ball said. “He has solid speed and great endurance so he can help out in anything from the 100 (meters) to the mile.”
White and Anderson will compete in the distance events.
“They took one, two in the (Town Parks and Recreation) Turkey Trot and will be able to showcase their talents this year,” said Ball.
White is also expected to participate in the 300 hurdles.
Also bolstering the Longhorn cause this spring is the addition of several athletes who starred on the Payson High basketball team.
Tanner Hintze, the hoop team’s leading scorer has turned out for track, as have Cole Belcher and Guillermo Lopez. In basketball, Belcher started at power forward and Lopez was the first team point guard.
Hintze is expected to high jump, Belcher be multidimensional and Lopez run the distances.
Michael Scott, who sat out last season after a good freshman year, has returned to the team.
In 2010 he was the only freshman in the conference to reach the state finals in the 400 meters.
“He looks to have grown a bit and should pick up where he left off,” Ball said.
During preseason practices the coaching staff has evaluated team talent and remain confident the jumpers, which include the pole vaulters, will be a strength, as will be speed, especially in the 400 meters.
While the team appears deep in a variety of events, the distances worry Ball because most of the runners lack experience.
“We have moved a couple of kids over and have a few firsttime track athletes, like Lopez,” he said. “Once they see the impact they can make, I feel we will be solid in the distances.”
Although inclement weather has limited some outdoor practices and Ball has had to wait for wrestling and basketball to end to get those athletes out, he’s optimistic.
“The group so far seems willing,” he said. “Practices have been very workman like — athletes know where they are supposed to be and are getting things done.”
With the season set to begin March 3 at the Queen Creek Desert Classic, Ball is expecting the meet to attract some of the teams who are favorites to make a run at a division championship.
They include Florence, Higley, Rio Rico, Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge.
He, however, is not giving up on Longhorn chances to win postseason honors.
“With how watered down team scoring can be by having 56 teams in the division, we have a chance to be right in the mix,” he said. “If we can progress our jumpers, pole vaulters, hurdlers and throw in a relay or two we can come close points wise.”