A field of five Payson High School track and field team members had the opportunity to showcase their talents in the prestigious Meet of Champions that annually draws the best athletes from Arizona.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association-sanctioned, post-season meet, formerly known as the Luke Greenway Invitational, is unique in that it pits invited athletes from all school sizes, Division I to IV, against one another.
From Payson, Jaymi Carlen (triple jump), Kyle Raeke (300 meter hurdles), Bubba Nielson (high jump), Keith Williams (pole vault) and Levi Sopeland (pole vault) were invited.
Williams and Sopeland competed in a field that featured 18 of the best vaulters from around the state including Cole Walsh and Garret Starke, who both cleared 16 feet, 5 inches.
Williams vaulted 14 feet, 6 inches and tied for eighth place.
Sopeland, competing under some adversity, tied for 13th after clearing 13 feet, 9 inches.
Only a week ago, at the Division III state meet, Sopeland was attempting to clear 13 feet, 6 inches when he experienced a vaulter’s nightmare — his pole shattered.
“It was a little scary, but he was okay,” said coach Johnathan Ball. “He was jumping really well, but had to move to a shorter pole.”
Also, both the Payson vaulters were shortchanged a bit when officials decided to raise the bar 9 inches on each attempt rather than three inches traditionally done when vaults exceed 14 feet.
The change was because, “They were running out of time and had to be done at 10 p.m.,” Ball said.
At the Meet of Champions, Sopeland — because of his broken pole — was using one loaned to him by 1997 World Championship bronze medalist Dean Starkey.
With it, Sopeland nearly set a personal record, “He was all the way over 14 feet, 6 inches and grazed it with his elbow on the way down,” Ball said.
Williams, Ball added, “was very close on 15 feet, 3 inches and has had an amazing season.
“I am very proud of everything he has accomplished. It was so nice to see him end his high school career on the highest note with a state championship.”
Williams won the crown May 12 clearing 14 feet, 3 inches at the state finals held at Mesa College.
The Payson pair’s showings in the pole vault earned the two invitations to compete in the Great Southwest Classic to be held May 31 to June 2 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
In the girls triple jump, Carlen turned in a banner effort leaping 34 feet 11 inches to take seventh in the star-studded field.
With the showing, she joins Williams and Sopeland as Great Southwest Classic invitees.
Raeke was timed in 42.09 in the hurdles at MOC and was ninth among the 11 invitees.
In the high jump, Nielson easily cleared six feet and tied for 11th place.
The Great Southwest will mark the end of prep careers for Williams, Sopeland and Carlen who will graduate with the PHS class of 2012.
“These three seniors have had great careers,” said Ball. “I am very proud of them.”