Arizona has enjoyed a slow, steady rise to track prominence nationwide. Much of that rise was aided by the Chandler girls program, which won two Nike Team National titles, and individuals like Billy Orman, Devon Allen and Bernie Montoya.
Taking the baton for the state now are Chandler senior Ky Westbrook, who has a world youth title to her credit, and Mountain Pointe’s Paul Lucas, one of the best young sprinters in the country.
The 2014 track and field season will feature a real challenge to the Chandler girls’ run of dominance, as Desert Vista has a dominant distance crew to go with strong field event performers. But Chandler has Westbrook, who could score 40 points by herself, along with sprinters like Tope Williams, LaMaya Williams, Imani Adams, as well as thrower Bianca Finn ready to accept the Thunder’s challenge.
On the Division I boys side, Corona del Sol may finally break through for the first track team title since winning the 4A championship in 1982. The Aztecs are loaded in the distance races, with Nate Rodriguez, Ryan Normand, Marcus Wheeler and Nick Creasman, and have a standout hurdler in Tevin Mayfield and a 16-foot pole vaulter in Matt Eckles. Corona’s challenges will likely come from Desert Vista, which always fields deep teams, Mountain Pointe and Mountain View.
In Division II, the team race is wide open on the boys side, with defending Div. III champion Williams Field and runner-up Higley moving up a division. Both schools will be in the conversation for a top-3 finish at the state meet, along with Campo Verde, Arcadia, Deer Valley and South Mountain.
The girls’ team race is Tucson Salpointe Catholic’s to lose. The Lancers are seeking their third straight Div. II title and will have to fight off challenges from Canyon del Oro and Cactus, among others.
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Ky Westbrook, Senior, Chandler
Westbrook has little more to prove in her high school career, but don’t expect anything but another stellar season from the USC-bound star. Coming off her World Youth Championships win in the 100, Westbrook is just .02 off the state record of 11.31, a time she’d like to beat before heading off to Los Angeles. She already holds the state records in the 200 (23.37) and shot put (47-7 ½) and will be adding the 100 hurdles to her meet repertoire. She is the driving force behind Chandler’s push for its ninth consecutive state championship.
Danielle Jones, Junior, Desert Vista
There is one team that could challenge the Chandler girls’ run of titles and that is the Thunder and Jones could account for 30 points at the state meet all by herself this year. The junior won the 800 and 1,600 titles last year at the Div. I state meet and has been rolling ever since. She won the state cross country title, qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals and placed 15th. Jones already ranks No. 2 in Arizona history in the 800 with her 2:10.33 and No. 5 in the 1,600 with a 4:51.17. Of the two records, Mountain Pointe legend Sara (Gorton) Slatterly’s 4:49.11 in the 1,600 would appear to be the most in jeopardy.
Ashlee Moore, Senior, Hamilton
Moore is a unique athlete in these days of specialization. Her athletic ability is a rarity in itself, but Moore is one of a precious few big-school state champions in track and field who competes in a sport during the winter. And Moore doesn’t just play on Hamilton’s girls basketball team, she has been a starter for the past three seasons, helping lead her team to the state finals in 2012 and the state semifinals the past two seasons. Playing basketball late into February may have affected Moore’s track performances, but she more than holds her own. She holds the top returning performances in the 100 hurdles (14.08), the high jump (5-8) and the long jump (19-9 ½) and will be the favorite in Div. I in all three events.
Paul Lucas, Junior, Mountain Pointe
This season marks the point in the high school career of Paul Lucas that the only thing he is chasing is the clock. There is no Devon Allen to run down like Lucas did to win the Division I 100 meter title as a sophomore, and while the rest of the D-I sprinters are solid, Lucas has no rivals in the state. He is chasing state records in the 100 (10.33), 200 (20.22) and 400 (46.47) and is already in the all-time top 5 in the 100 (10.44) and 200 (20.99). Lucas is also planning on competing in the long jump this season, and with coach Larry Todd in his corner, Lucas has to be considered a contender to win that at the Div. I state meet in May.
TIME TO SHINE.....
Nate Rodriguez, Senior, Corona del Sol
Was Division I state cross country champ this year and is the man to beat in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Lucky for him, he has plenty of backup on the Aztecs' team with Nick Creasman (800), Ryan Normand and Marcus Wheeler (both in the 1,600 and 3,200). Don’t be shocked to see two or three Aztecs on the podium in all three distance events at the state meet, but Rodriguez will likely be on the top spot.
Tevin Mayfield, Senior, Corona del Sol
He’s been running behind the best hurdler in state history (Brophy Prep’s Devon Allen) the past two years in the 110 high hurdles and the 300 hurdles. Now, Mayfield will have to fight off another Brophy hurdler (Robert Grant) for a state title or two this year.
Lucky Schreiner, Junior, Campo Verde
Schreiner showed glimpses of greatness during the track season last year, placing second in both the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Division II state meet. A great cross country season (he placed second in Div. II) showed that Schreiner’s confidence has only grown, which makes him a threat to win both long distance events this year.
Logan Pinkerton, Sophomore, Gilbert Christian
Pinkerton showed he has potential to be the first state track and field champion for Gilbert Christian. Pinkerton has a handful of seniors ahead of him in both the 400 and 800 in Division IV, but he’ll be right in the mix to finish in the top 4, as he has the fourth-best time among returners in the 400 (52.62) and the No. 5 time in the 800 (2:02.52).
Beau Eggers, Senior, Hamilton
A solid technician who has seen steady improvement for three years, Eggers is now poised to lead the state in both throwing events. He jumped up from a PR of 48-10 as a sophomore to 57-7 ¼ as a junior in the shot put and from 157-0 to 174-9 in the discus, giving him the top returning marks in the state in both.
Zach Rucas, Senior, Basha
Rucas was a consistent jumper in 2013, hitting the 22-foot mark (with a PR of 22-10) at four different meets last year. He’ll be looking to push things deep into the 23-feet range in order to get to the top of the long jump pecking order in Div. I. Rucas will also be in the hunt for a high finish in the triple jump, with a PR of 44-9 heading into this season campaign.
Marie Bryant, Senior, Tempe Prep
The only thing holding Bryant back is the 4-event limit for each athlete, otherwise the senior would probably do 7 or 8 events. As it is, Bryant is one of the top returners in Div. IV in four different events, the 100, 200, 400 and discus. Tempe Prep won the Div. IV state title in 2011, but has finished as runner-up the past two years. If Bryant has a good state meet, look for the Knights to move back into the top spot.
Ashley Harrison, Junior, Valley Christian
Harrison is the latest in what seems to be an endless line of strong VC hurdlers. She’s the top returner in the 100 hurdles with a PR of 16.26 and will be looking for more improvement in the 300 hurdles, where she sits with the No. 7 returning time from 2013.
Camille Zimmerman, Senior, Tempe Prep
While Bryant dominates on the track for Tempe Prep, Zimmerman does the same in the field. She boasts the best mark of any returning high jumpers in Div. IV with her 5-2 clearance. She also has the third-best marks among returners in the long jump (16-0 1/2) and triple jump (35-0 3/4).
Kayla Melgar, Senior, Tempe
Melgar was a pleasant surprise for Tempe as a junior, but she won’t surprise anyone this season. The senior is the preseason favorite in Div. II in both the shot put (with a top throw of 40-0) and discus (134-4). She’ll set her sights on hitting the 43- or 44-foot mark in the shot put and the 140-foot barrier in the discus, which would put her in the same class as anyone in the state.
Connor Watson, Sophomore, Desert Vista
Part of a very talented sophomore class, Watson qualified for state in the long jump (with a PR of 21-5) and triple jump (42-9) and could also contribute on the sprint relays for the Thunder.
Kelton Hicks, Sophomore, Gilbert
Best event as a freshman was the triple jump, where he jumped 42-4 1/4 and qualified for the Div. I state meet. Hicks is also a strong long jumper and high jumper who could find himself doing all three events at the state meet this year.
Seth Usevitch, Sophomore, Mesquite
The only freshman to qualify for the Div. I meet in the 400, Usevitch was a model of consistency, running under 52 seconds in six different meets, including a PR of 51.14 (a time he ran at two different meets) and a 51.19 at the Div. I state meet. Consistent improvement would put Usevitch in the sub-50 second range this year, putting him in the hunt to make the 400 finals at the state meet..
Cade Burks, Sophomore, Perry
Among all freshman runners in the nation, Burks posted the No. 9 time (1:57.32) in the 800 in 2013 according to the track and field website Milesplit.com and was the only freshman to run the 800, 1,600 or 3,200 at the Div. I state meet. With improvement, Burks could find himself on the podium (the top four finishers) at the Div. I state meet this year.
Shannon Fritz, Sophomore, Desert Vista
Fritz is a solid pole vaulter for the Thunder, with a top clearance of 11-1. She really set herself apart from the rest of the freshmen last year with her fourth-place finish in the high jump at the Div. I meet. Fritz cleared 5-6 a year ago and was over 5-4 at four different meets.
Baylee Jones, Freshman, Desert Vista
Jones is poised to be the next great distance runner in Arizona (chasing her sister, Danielle), as indicated by her second-place finish at the Div. I state cross country meet. During her youth track season in 2013, Jones posted a state age group record time in the 3,000 meters (9:56.93) and would have likely went much faster but her season was cut short due to injury. Look for Jones to challenge the Arizona all-time mark for a freshman in the 3,200 (10:37.23).
Tiana Poirier-Shelton, Freshman, Chandler
Just what Chandler needed, was another outstanding young jumper to join an already supremely talented squad. Based on her marks as a 8th grader, Poirier-Shelton enters her freshman season with the No. 2 mark in the long jump (18-2) and the No. 5 mark in the triple jump (35-4) among those expected to compete in 2014. Any improvement will make her a top-three contender in both events.