The more things change, the more they stay the same. As far as the 2011 high school track and field season goes, that phrase could not be more true.
Several big changes are taking place this year. First, the Arizona Interscholastic Association made realignment changes, abandoning the 5A through 1A format and going with four divisions, with the largest schools being in Division I. Next, changes were made to how athletes qualify for state. A set of performance standards in each division will determine who gets a spot in the state meet. No longer will there be qualifying through the regional meets late in the year. In fact, region meets will no longer be held.
And finally, a new rule was put in place that limits the number of athletes one team can have in an event at the state meet. Each school can only have four athletes in an event, something that only affects a handful of teams based on last years’ state meet, most notably Chandler, Xavier, Desert Vista and Mountain View, four of the top programs in the state who once again appear to be the favorites to win team titles in Division I.
GIRLS TEAMS TO WATCH
Chandler — You can’t begin any conversation about high school track in Arizona without mentioning Chandler. The Wolves have perhaps their best team yet, with Jasmine Todd, Hannah Carson, Alexis Roberts and Alexis Clay leading the way.
Xavier — The Gators are the dominant distance-running team in the state, but they’ll need to develop some depth in the sprints and field events if they want to hang with the likes of Chandler and Desert Vista.
Valley Christian — The Trojans have won 15 straight state championships, but 16 could be the most difficult yet. Valley Christian lost a lot to graduation and will have to find some ways to make up all of those points.
Desert Vista — Another team that has a lot of people to replace, especially in the pole vault, but the Thunder always have huge numbers and will be fine with up-and-coming talent like Julia Kline, Sydnee Freeman and Yasmine Yacut.
Hamilton — The Huskies are slowly climbing into the conversation with programs like Desert Vista and Xavier. Hamilton returns two sprinters who made the 5A-I finals last year (Ida Mayer and Destiny Lundy) and Victoria McCarthur is the best returning 300-meter hurdler in Division I.
BOYS TEAMS TO WATCH
Mountain View — The Toros fell just short of the title a year ago and return most of their point-scorers. Carter Brown, Justin Newman and Patrick Glover provide a solid corps of sprinters and the Toros always seem to have solid field event performers.
Desert Vista — When you get well over 100 athletes coming out for track, it’s not that hard to rebuild. Desert Vista has turned into a powerful throws program, with returning state players like Riley Pendergast and Spencer Schumacher leading the way.
Chandler — The defending state champions lost a lot, and won’t have a lot of depth this year, but don’t feel bad for the Wolves. Devin Centers and Paul Perkins are both returning state placers in the hurdles and Chandler should get some points in the field from returners like Jemal Vargas and Travis Colby.
Westwood — The Warriors are very strong in the hurdles, led by Cameron Taylor and Dominique Carter, and sprinter Valencio Gray is capable of scoring points in the 100, 200 and 400. Adding talented freshman Mykeal Ham will add to the depth in the sprints and relays also.
Brophy — The Broncos are a team that are poised for a breakthrough on the track. Brophy’s distance duo of Tommy Williams and Will Firth are as good a pair as you’ll find in the state. Throw in sophomore sprinters Devon Allen and Jalen Ortiz and the Broncos have a firm foundation to build on.
GIRLS ATHLETES TO WATCH
Jasmine Todd, Jr., Chandler — Best long and triple jumper in the state in 2010. She also was the 5A-I state champion in the 100. If she continues to improve, she’ll challenge the state records in both jumping events.
Hannah Carson, Sr., Chandler — Carson has competed internationally as a javelin thrower, an event Arizona doesn’t offer in high school, but she was the best shot putter in Arizona last year and also in the top 5 in the discus and high jump. She’s a powerful athlete that can do just about any field event well.
Kristy Rush, Soph., Highland — Had a breakthrough season as a freshman, and peaked at the right time. She was second at the 5A-I state meet in the 3,200, just seven seconds behind Xavier star Jessica Tonn and third in the 1,600. It’ll be fun to watch her battle another sophomore, Xavier’s Sarah Fakler, for the next three years.
Kylie Harmon, Sr., Desert Vista — She is the top returning pole vaulter from 2010, clearing 12-feet, 1-inch at the Meet of Champions at the end of the season. She didn’t even get to vault at state, as Desert Vista had six of the top seven placers a year ago.
Ida Meyer, Sr. Hamilton — Meyer showed that Chandler High didn’t have a monopoly on talented sprinters and jumpers. She was second behind Jasmine Todd in the long jump at the 5A-I state meet and was fourth in the 100 and fifth in the 200.
Bailey Farkas, Jr., Skyline — Little was known about Farkas going into her sophomore season, but she sure made herself known as one of the top sprinters in the state. She placed in both the 100 and 200 last year and qualified for state in the 400 as well.
BOYS ATHLETES TO WATCH
Ronnie Sanchez, Sr., Perry — Was the 5A-II state champion in the 400 a year ago and had the second best time in Arizona at the state meet. Sanchez will be the odds-on favorite again this year, as the Pumas compete in Division II of the new four-division format.
Cameron Taylor, Sr., Westwood — Broke the 14-second barrier in the 110-meter high hurdles late in the summer, running 13.98 seconds at the Junior Olympic national championships. Taylor will look to challenge the all-time Arizona record of 13.69 this year, as well as improve on his 300-meter hurdle time of 38.92.
Breylan Uchytil, Sr., Mountain View — Broke from the pack last year in 5A-I, winning the state high jump title and posting the best mark (6-9 1/2) of all returning jumpers.
Devin Centers, Jr., Chandler — If the Wolves are going to repeat as state champions (they will compete in Div. I), they’ll need some growth out of Centers, who was fourth in the 110-meter high hurdles and eighth in the 300 hurdles. He also just missed the finals in the long jump.
Josh Nielson, Sr., Queen Creek — Is the lone returning individual state champion for the Bulldogs, who easily won the 4A-I crown last year, but will face a tough challenge in Division II this year. Nielson won the long jump and was fifth in the triple jump last year and will be counted upon even more this season.
Rocky Brittain, Sr., Tempe Prep — Was the 100 meter champion and the 200 meter runner-up a year ago for the Knights, who finished 2.5 points off of winning their third straight track crown (the first two came in 1A). The return of Brittain, who also ran a leg on the state-title winning 400-meter relay, makes the Knights a contender in Division IV.
March 4: Toro Invitational at Mountain View High School
March 5: Desert Classic at Queen Creek High School
March 11: Brophy Prep AMDG Invitational at Brophy Sports Complex
March 25-26: Chandler Rotary Invitational at Chandler High School
April 1: Scottsdale Distance Classic at Saguaro High School
April 7, 9: Sun Angel Classic at Tempe High and Arizona State University
April 29-30: Mesa Hohokam Invitational at Westwood High School
May 4, 6: Southeast Valley Championships at Queen Creek High School
May 11, 13, 14: State Championships at Mesa Community College
DID YOU KNOW?
Honored: Desert Vista assistant coach Jeff Guy was awarded National High School Coach of the year at the 21st annual National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev. in January. Guy also was honored the same award in 2001 while he was coaching at Corona Del Sol. Last year Guy had five girls clear 12-feet, 1-inch, led by Shaylah Simpson, who set a new state record of 13-4, and Heather Arseneau, who cleared 13-0. Desert Vista had six of the top seven placers in the 5A-I meet last year (all seniors).
Streaks: While they have a long way to go to catch up to Valley Christian’s national record of 15-straight (and still counting) state track championships, the Chandler girls are putting together a dynasty of their own. The Wolves have won five straight state championships and are the clear favorite to win again this year. And, with several impact underclassmen on the team, there doesn’t appear to be an end to the streak in sight.
Newcomers: Some fresh faces to look for in 2011 include Corona del Sol’s Tevin Mayfield (300 hurdles and long jump); Westwood’s Mykeal Ham (sprints) on the boys side and Chandler’s Ky Westbrook (sprints) and Hamilton’s Ashlee Moore (high jump and long jump) on the girls side. Another “fresh face” that we will see on the track this spring is Chaparral junior Devonte Neal, who we last saw running track as a freshman at Laveen Cesar Chavez in 2009.