Optimism Reigns As Horn Tracksters Prep For Season

Pole vault coach Bo Althoff looks on as an aspiring jumper gets a feel for the weight and length of the pole vault during practice.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Pole vault coach Bo Althoff looks on as an aspiring jumper gets a feel for the weight and length of the pole vault during practice.


Payson High School track team conditioning and training practice sessions have taken on a more dynamic and technical nature that focus on developing core body muscles including the transversus abdominis (TVA), the muscles of the pelvic floor, the lats and the obliques.

“We have changed our routines dramatically,” said head coach Johnathan Ball. “We have moved from static warm-up routines to more elastic routines focusing on sprint mechanics.”

The intent of the new program, Ball added, “Is we are teaching our athletes how to run this year.

“I think this is going to help progress the program.”

Pole vault coach Bo Althoff who in the early 1990s set the school vaulting record initiated the new training regime. At PHS, Althoff also starred in football and basketball before earning a scholarship to Arizona State University.


Bo Althoff is the pole vaulting instructor for the PHS track team, he and others are assisting coach Johnathan Ball prepare the Longhorns for the new season

The changes in the practice routines, he said, make the sessions more dynamic, much more technical and are conducted at a higher level.

“Everything is changing now, techniques are new and different,” Althoff said. “The focus now is on core strength.”

He defines core strength as developing the muscles deep inside the abs and back, which power all body movements and are the source of stability.

No matter what a person is doing, Althoff contends, it is those muscles that keep the body stable and balanced.

Althoff picked up some of the techniques during his days at Arizona State, but has learned even more as an instructor at several high school and college summer pole vault training camps.

Often in high school sports, new training programs can create some uneasiness in young athletes, but that’s not the situation with Althoff’s practice routines.

“The athletes have done a great job with the transition,” Ball said. “In the two weeks of practice thus far, we have had very focused practices and the athletes are working hard to get better.”

Most likely, the presence of a dedicated veteran coaching staff is among the reasons team members have absorbed the new techniques so smoothly.

In addition to Althoff coaching the vaulters, Ball has available Jake Swartwood, Denver White and Amy Buckner.

Swartwood will coach sprints and vertical jumps, White is coaching throws and Buckner oversees the hurdles and sprint events. Ball will concentrate on distances and horizontal jumps.

Somewhat ironically, all the coaches, except Ball, once played sports at PHS.

Although practices have been underway for only a short time, the coaches have been able to access the athletes and determine team strengths.

As for the boy’s team, Ball predicts the Longhorns will be formidable in the field events, relays and 200 meters.

“We should also be good in all the jumps and in the throws,” said Ball.

For the Lady Longhorns, Ball contends the team strength will be speed, “But we should be good in the distances and relays as well.”

Most impressive this year, is the presence of a returning core of veteran letter winners who undoubtedly will be asked to step up and provide the leadership every good team, regardless of the sport, needs.

The individuals

Among the Lady Longhorn returning letter winners, speedster Morgan Chilson should once again be among the best sprinters in Division III and the state.

She’s starred for PHS since her freshman season and Ball predicts her final year in the PHS uniform might be her best, “She is looking to finish up her high school career on a high note; she is very dedicated.”

Natalie Moceri, also a senior, is expected to make some noise in the distance events.

Last year, she qualified for state in the two mile and this season, Ball said, “Is looking to improve.”

Also in the distances, Abby Greenleaf, Erin Huffman and Rachel Knauer lend depth to the team.

Huffman and Greenleaf, Ball said, picked up valuable experience and confidence during cross-country, which should bode them well as the track season wears on.

Knauer and newcomer Emily Laffano-Massee have drawn praise from Ball for “Looking very strong in practice.”

Another newcomer, Michelle Schatz, who moved to Payson from California last year will, along with Chilson, give the Lady Horns two top-notch sprinters.

At Diamond Bar High School, Schatz competed in the 100, 200 and 400 meters and on the school’s 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. Last fall, she was a member of the Lady Horn soccer team.

The Longhorns

On the boy’s team, the coaching staff has four returning letter winners — Bubba Nielsen, Logan Morris, Payson Bobier and Michael Anderson. All will be called upon to score the team points needed for both victories and berths into the post season.

Nielsen returns from a banner season last year in the high jump, long jump and both hurdle events.

He is the third best high jumper returning from the 2012 state meet with a PR of 6-feet, 2 inches.

Last season Morris injured his ankle in the second meet of the year and struggled to return to full strength.

This year however, “He is healthy and has been impressive in practice,” Ball said.

Morris, a senior, will compete in the high hump, long jump, 400 meters and the 1600-meter relay.

Coaches have penciled Bobier in all the sprint events and the relays. Obviously, Ball expects great things from the speedster, “He put in a great off season and I’m excited to see the improvements he has made.

“Payson has come a long way in the last two years.”

Coaches are expecting Anderson, a senior who moved last year to the distance events from the sprints, to become a big time contributor to the team cause.

As for newcomers, Ball expects Wyatt Chapman and Stephen Perry to immediately become difference makers.

Chapman, only a freshman, “Has great speed and strength,” Ball said.

Perry is a strong-armed junior expected to shine in both the shot put and discus.

Looking ahead

With preseason practices winding down, the staff and team members have set some goals for the campaign.

Among them, Ball said, “Is to qualify all our relay teams for the state meet and to make progress throughout the season and compete our best in the state championships.”

To qualify the relay teams for the state finals on May 10 at Mesa Community College, the foursomes must record at select meets during the regular season state top-18 ranked times.

The first chance to do so looms tomorrow, March 2, at the season-opening Queen Creek Invitational.

This spring, PHS will host three meets — the PHS Freshman-Sophomore Invitational on March 9, the Chuck Hardt Coed Relays on April 3 and the Longhorn Invitational set for April 20.

This year, the Longhorn Invitational will be a state qualifier.


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