FARMINGTON — After winning its first girls track and field team title in school history a season ago, Aztec enters this year with high hopes of a repeat performance.
The Lady Tigers return four athletes who combined for six individual championships in 2013. Sarah Root and Kayli Farmer won two titles apiece, while Morgan Smith and Sierra Martinez each won one event.
Aztec head coach Anna Strauss believes teams will be gunning for her squad throughout the season after last year's championship.
"The girls have high expectations, but we definitely have the target on our backs," Strauss said.
Strauss is relying on the leadership of her past champions to carry the team this season.
"They're all good leaders, and they put in the work," she said.
Root enters 2014 as the two-time defending triple jump champion. She also won the 100-meter hurdles last season, while placing in long jump and 300-meter hurdles.
Farmer took down the javelin and high jump titles in 2013 for the Lady Tigers.
Smith emerged with the pole vault title, and Martinez edged out Root in the long jump event.
The balance the Lady Tigers have across the variety of events is what Strauss said makes them a solid team.
"Track is so unique. Everyone works on their individual events toward a team goal," she said. "They have all set really high standards for themselves."
Piedra Vista comes into the season close behind Aztec after finishing in third place at state last season.
The Lady Panthers are led by Memphis commit Zhianna Flores, who won two events last season.
Flores was the 200-meter and 300-meter hurdle champion in 2013, and head coach Mark Turner is expecting an even bigger year out of the PV star after she qualified for state in five events at Aztec's Icebreaker meet on March 21.
"I've never had a kid get five qualifying marks at one meet before," Turner said.
Flores qualified in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 300-meter hurdles, as well as the long jump and the 4x200-meter relay team.
PV also should be strong in the throwing events, despite losing discus and shot put champion Katie Hegarty.
Turner said Kaleigh Graham has stepped up to fill that void and is currently ranked second in the 4A shot put.
Farmington High and Kirtland Central both finished outside of the top 10 in the team standings in 2013, but they are expected to bounce back this year.
"Aztec is especially strong, but don't overlook the Farmington and Kirtland girls," Turner said.
FHS head coach Jeff Dalton said his key is to keep the girls' focus on improving every meet.
"They've gotten third in every meet this year, and you just have to remind them they're going against the top two teams in the state," Dalton said, referring to Aztec and PV. "The girls are at a point now where they are out there working hard."
Dalton expects the team to be strong in the sprints and relays, but competing against Flores in those events will make it difficult on his team.
"Everything we're really good in seems to be a Zhianna Flores event. It's going to take some special circumstances on the right day to come out on top," he said.
KCHS has shown they have strong runners in the distance events, as well as the 400-meter, early in the season.
In 3A, Bloomfield returns one individual champion in Jaimie Kosea, who won the shot put title as an eighth grader last year. Louisa Maestas finished pole vault in second place and should be a contender in that event for the Lady Bobcats.
Shiprock has a few distance runs who can compete for podium places.