Desert Vista Pole Vaulter Shaylah Simpson is looking to reach new heights in her trek towards going higher than any high school vaulter has gone.

Some of the big guns may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that Desert Vista’s track and field arsenal is empty.

The Thunder boys and girls teams will get an opportunity to display some of their latest weapons this weekend in the annual Chandler Rotary meet at Chandler High School today, March 26, and Saturday, March 27, in Chandler.

“It’s the Chandler Rotary, so it isn’t just another meet,” said Desert Vista co-coach Chris Hanson, who shares head coaching duties with Cassendra Cline-McKenzie.

“However, we treat it similar to another meet because it gives the kids a chance to set some personal records. That’s our goal at every meet because that way they’ll bring the entire team up.”

The Chandler meet has been viewed as a preview of the state championships late in May.

“There is a theory that if you win Chandler you’ll win state,” Hanson said. “That isn’t necessarily true, but usually the top three will have a good shot at winning state.”

The Thunder boys team has won the last three state championships and earned two national titles.

“We lost a lot of guys last year,” Hanson said, “but we were deep and hopefully these guys will step up. Depth is what is going to carry us this year.”

Desert Vista’s girls team took home the winner’s trophy in 2004 and has five runner-up finishes.

That team lost some key athletes, too, but Hanson said talent remains.

“We’re down on the big hitters a little, but we’re strong across the board,” Hanson said. “In the last few years we were getting some firsts, but in the past we would beat you with a second and fifth or a fourth and an eighth.”

That won’t change this season.

“That’s how we beat teams,” Hanson said. “We have top-echelon kids, but the reality is that in order for us to get it done, we’re going to have to do it with depth.”

The Thunder certainly have that in the pole vault where senior Shaylah Simpson heads up a group of seven vaulters, including Emily Heisler, Courtney Reginato, Heather Arseneau, Lindsay Jantzi, Kylie Harmon and Merritt Ten Hope.

“We call them the Magnificent Seven,” Hanson said. “Our goal is to have them all over 11 feet, which would be the best in the country, and I’d be shocked if six of them didn’t get some kind of scholarship.”

Simpson has been at the top of her game ever since she came onto the Desert Vista campus as a freshman.

Thunder veteran vault coach Jeff Guy has helped to perfect that talent.

“We knew we had something special,” Hanson said, “and when you have an athlete like that and put them with a good coach like Jeff Guy you’re going to get results.”

Simpson won the state championship last year, soaring 12 feet, 9.75 inches and has already gone more than 13 feet (13.2.25) this season.

Without a pole she has cleared 5 feet in the high jump along with Mackenzie Neumyer.

Courtney Kastelic, who spends her fall season on the volleyball court for the Thunder, is also a strong discus and shot putter. She placed fourth in the state in discus last season and was sixth in the shot.

Desert Vista’s girls should be quick, too.

Prasanna Polite is a threat in the 100- and 200-meter dashes while Sydnee Freeman has been a step behind in the 100 and is the fastest 400-meter sprinter on the team.

Yasmine Yacut can handle the 400 and 800 meters while Megan Dudzinski stretched her distance from being a sprinter to become the Thunder’s leading 1,600-meter runner.

Despite some big losses on the boys team – seven members of last year’s team received college scholarships – the Thunder still have “big hitters” this season.

“The big hitters that are back are obviously Anders Battle and Michael Ingrassia,” Hanson said. “Another is Kendric Flanagan who was a big qualifier at state for us last year.”

When a meet starts, Battle is all over the field. He is the Thunder’s top long jumper with a mark of more than 20 feet this year, and he is also Desert Vista’s top 100-meter sprinter.

Battle was fifth in the state at 100 meters as a junior last season and second in the long jump and is third in a line of siblings to star in track.

“Anders is very mature,” Hanson said. “He’s been around this for a long time, watched his brothers and did real well as a junior. Going into big meets we expect him to do well.”

Ingrassia won the state 300-meter hurdles as a sophomore last season and is on target to repeat. He is also the Thunder’s top high jumper this season after ending up in a three-way tie for fourth at state last year.

“When he was a freshman we knew he was special,” Hanson added.

Chris Whitton could pick up where Desert Vista’s state pole vault champion Alec Hsu left off last season.

Riley Pendergast is the Thunder’s top discus thrower followed by Dylan Rudolph.

The 3,200-meter duo of Albert Kombe and Tucker Kidd are both headed for college after this spring.

The team has 285 athletes and 16 coaches, including some volunteers, this season.

“We’re track geeks,” Hanson said. “We get excited about track. I guess we’re goofy that way, but I’d put this staff up against any in the state and possibly the nation.”

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