States like California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are some of the largest states in the U.S. by population, and therefore have many of the top track & field performers in the country; but don't count out Arizona when talking about top-ranked US athletes. In 2020, nine Arizona female phenoms are in the top-40 ranked returning athletes in the United States.
LAUREN PING - DESERT VISTA - 1600M
In 2019, Lauren Ping was only an 8th grader at Cotter HS (Winona, MN) and ran some phenomenal times. In the 1600m, she ran a best of 4:50.64. At New Balance Outdoor Nationals she ran a PR of 4:58.47. She also holds a 10:25.12 PR in the 3200 m as an 8th grader. The Pings moved to Arizona this fall and landed in one of the top distance schools year-in-year-out in the state, Desert Vista High School. There, Lauren took Arizona by storm this past cross country season, with a 2nd place at the prestigious Nike Desert Twilight Festival (16:49.13 - PR), AIA Division I Girls' State Champion in Cross Country, not to mention her first-place finish at Mt. Sac Invitational (16:47). Lauren goes into the 2020 outdoor track & field season ranked #28 in returning girls in the 1600 meters in the US.
MAKAYLA HUNTER - CHANDLER - DISCUS
Makayla Hunter has been involved in track & field since being a little kid. As a high school sophomore in 2019, Makayla flourished as one of the top throwers in nearly every event in the state. But where she shined brightest was in the discus. Last year she threw a PR of 141-1 to take 2nd at the AIA Division I State Championships, as well as placing 4th in the Great Southwest Classic. She will be the top discus thrower in the state this spring, as well as being a formidable opponent in the girls' javelin and shot put. Makayla is ranked #27 in returning girls' discus throwers in the US in 2020
TAYLOR STARKEY - CASTEEL - POLE VAULT
Taylor Starkey committed to the University of Kansas Jayhawks late in 2019 and is ready to have another great year as she had in 2019. Taylor has already vaulted 13-4 indoors at the National Pole Vault Summit in January and last spring soared over 13-5 at the USATF Arizona State Championship in late May. This was after winning the Division II State Championship a few weeks earlier. And if you can say anything about Taylor it is that she is a fierce competitor. Last year alone she won 10 of the 13 meets she competed in; moreover, since freshman year Taylor has almost improved her vault height by four feet! Taylor is #8 in returning US girls in the pole vault in 2020.
RAHNI TURNER - WESTWOOD - 100M HURDLES
Rahni Turner is an impressive overall athlete, but where she soars above the rest is when there is a hurdle in her path. In 2019, Rahni was in the top-3 in every race she competed in the 100m hurdles other than the Great Southwest (taking 8th), but her consolation prize was her PR of 14.05w. She did run a legal 14.10 at Sun Angel Classic in early April. Only a junior in 2020, she will be a formidable competitor to those in Arizona and beyond for the next two seasons. She is ranked #37 returning girl 100m hurdler in the US in 2020. She placed 2nd in both the 100m hurdles and 300m hurdles in the Division I State Championships and just recently dipped under 60-seconds in the 400m for the first time in an indoor meet last weekend up in Flagstaff, Arizona. Looks like Rahni is poised for some faster times this spring.
KIANA KAI - CAMPO VERDE - 300M HURDLES
Kiana Kai had a breakout season in 2019. In the 100m hurdles, she went from running 15.41 in 2018 to 14.41 in 2019 (1st place in Desert Vista Last Chance Meet). In the 300m hurdles, she went from 44.86 in 2018 to a blistering 42.39, which was good enough for a 2nd-place finish at the Division II AIA State Championships. This time also ranks her #17 in returning US girls in the 300m hurdles. She has committed to run for NAU next year, but she still has a state championship she wishes to capture that has eluded her thus far in her high school career. Is she poised to break 42-seconds in the 300m hurdles this spring? We will have to wait and see.
LIA HENDRICKS - CAMPO VERDE - 300M HURDLES
We don't have to be Einstein to figure out where Campo Verde will be getting some of its points at state this year. More than a third of Campo Verde's girls' team points in the 2019 AIA Division II State Meet was due to the rhythmic striding leaping legs of Kiana Kai and Lia Hendricks. Lia also had a breakthrough season last spring by improving in the 100m hurdles from 14.80 (2018) to 14.48 (2019) and then dropping more than a full three seconds in her 300m hurdles by running 42.80 (2019) versus a best of 45.89 in 2018. And with Lia only being a junior in 2020 who knows how fast she will end up when it's all said and done. For now, though, she is ranked #22 US in returning girls in the 300m hurdles.
DOMINIQUE MUSTIN - NORTH CANYON - 400M & 800M
Since she stepped on the track as a club kid, Dominique Mustin has been tearing it up. She has already committed to Texas A&M University next fall and will be the #34 and #7 US ranked returning girl athlete in the 400m and 800m, respectively. Dominque dipped under the 2:10 mark in the 800m six times in 2019, something she hadn't done previously. At Arcadia, she ran her PR of 2:06.01, which remarkably was the second time that year she had broken 2:07. And this young woman has range. She ran a 5:12.49 1600m, 14.25 100m hurdles (1st in AIA Division II State Championships), 54.46 400m (3rd at Great Southwest Classic) and for good measure can run 25.48 in the 200m and get over 5-feet in the high jump. Don't miss her this year because a talent like this doesn't come around very often.
CAROLINE McLESKEY - HIGHLAND - 1600M & 3200M
Highland High and Coach Dave Montgomery have been pumping out top distance athletes for years in the Valley of the Sun and Caroline Mcleskey, a senior who has committed to BYU in the fall, is another one of those remarkable Hawks. She is the #41 and #29 US returning girl runner in the 1600m and 3200m, respectively. She was able to slice two-seconds off of her previous best of 4:55.85 (2018), with a 3rd place finish at the AIA Division I State Championship in 4:53.34. But, in the 3200m is where she really made a huge drop of almost 18 seconds. Caroline ran 10:25.76 last spring at Arcadia to take 10th place in a packed field of future NCAA Division I athletes.
JADYN MAYS - NORTH CANYON - 100M & 200M
Last but certainly not least on this list of our nine Arizona young women who are in the top-40 returning track & field athletes in the US is Jadyn Mays. Jadyn has, like other young ladies on this list, been a top age-group performer who transitioned effortlessly into the high school ranks back in 2017. Jadyn is heading to Oregon next fall to run track & field and looks to be the person to beat in the 100m and 200m in Arizona in 2020; she is the #10 and #32 US ranked returning female athlete, respectively. Just a couple of weeks ago, Jaydn ran at the Great Southwest Classic Indoor Invitational and took 1st in both the 60m (7.47) and 200m (24.42) dash, which were both PRs and put her at #10 and #25 in the US, respectively. Jadyn is a proven winner and in 2019 only missed the first spot in three of the 20 races she competed in the 100m and 200m distances. Her outdoor best in the 100m (11.56) and the 200m (23.85) last spring came at the Great Southwest Classic and the AIA Division II State Championships, respectively. With already great indoor season performances, it will be fun to watch what Jaydn can do her senior year on the big red oval.