The freshmen are far from under-classed at Rincon/University.
Fifteen-year-old Kendra Knittel, broke the school record in the 400 (57.42 seconds) on Saturday en route to winning at the Willie Williams Classic, erasing former star Kathi White's mark set nearly three decades earlier (1981).
That was Knittel's fourth-ever time running that race at the high school level, a snappy intro.
"That was unexpected," said Rincon/University assistant coach Lucius Miller, one of the program's leaders of the sprinters. "The talent is obvious from watching her. Then when she gets out on the track for a race, you get to see her competitive side take over, and that makes a difference."
Ryan Silva, another Rincon/ University freshman, claimed a national record run in the mile for his age group over the summer and won the 1,600 in his first regular-season meet and took the 800 in his second meet, setting the bar to the extreme immediately.
Knittel and Silva both have premier role models training next to them.
Senior star Tamara Pridgett - the owner of five individual gold medals and one more as part of the Rangers' 5A-II champ 4x100-relay crew last May - is the reigning Southern Arizona Girls Athlete of the Year. She is flanked by fellow 4x100 runner Ajai Young, who snared silver in the high jump.
"You see what (Pridgett) can do, and you just want to push yourself that much harder," said Knittel, who also specializes in the 200. "She told me on the first day that if I didn't slack in practice, I wouldn't regret it. I've just been trying to go as hard as I can whenever I run."
On the boys side, upperclassmen Daniel Becklund, Noah Kenyawani and Ochor Odol all qualified for the 5A-II state meet in the 1,600 in 2009. And sprinters Emilo Pedraza, Jay Bowser and Oscar Thompson all return from the Rangers 4x400 relay state champs. Bowser also won the 400.
Both the boys and girls teams finished third in the 5A-II last year and have gained an infusion of young talent putting them back in the hunt for state titles.
Foothills on fire
Last week's column listing the area's hottest starters left out one of the city's annually unbeatable: the Catalina Foothills boys tennis machine.
Foothills is again undefeated, a position to which the program is accustomed. Robb Salant's teams went 101-1 over the last five years taking the last four 4A-I state championships, plus a fifth in 2005 before the 4A split into two conferences.
They went 20-0 last year, never losing a set in the state tournament. The Falcons have won seven straight matches to begin this spring, and by a combined score of 61-2.
Foothills is led by Daniel Hyman, who lost to then-teammate Zach Haffor in the individual singles state championship match last spring.
That spree is among the area's most impressive on the boys side, trailing Sunnyside wrestling's 220-plus match dual-meet unbeaten streak and the decade-long state championship reign for the Foothills boys swim team.
Klassen plugs Cotton
Brand new to the position this fall, Palo Verde's Chris Klassen appears to be one of the emerging boys basketball coaches, guiding that program to the 4A-II state semis in February.
His key player, Bryce Cotton, is drawing interest from several Division I schools, UC-Santa Barbara and Seattle among them, following a breakout year.
That's why Klassen was stunned to hear that Cotton did not make the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association Seniors showdown, a statewide all-star game set for Phoenix in May.
The situation was not a miscommunication, says Klassen. Rather, as a rookie, Klassen was not communicated with at all. He was not invited to the gathering of coaches that picked the team, as the association still had the contact information for previous coach David Gin, he said.
"I feel terrible for Bryce. Had I known about it, I would've done everything I could to get him on," said Klassen, who wrote and called the association to appeal for Cotton but was unable to change the roster. "He's one of the top five or six players in the state, and he deserves the exposure of a game like that. He should be playing."
Although not in the game, Cotton - the owner of a 40-plus-inch vertical leap - will compete in the dunk contest, the association allowing the acrobatic 6-footer to show off his ups.
Also on the Titans basketball scene, DeVante Harkins was worthy of a first- or second-team all-Southern Arizona selection as one of the area's assist leaders, barely missing the cut in a loaded crop.
• Former Santa Rita football coach Jeff Scurran conquered Belgium. He coached Team Stars-and-Stripes, a team of 36 high school football players including nine from Tucson, to an 83-0 rout of the Brussels All-Stars in Global Bowl France, which took place in Amiens.
• The Canyon del Oro baseball team is ranked No. 38 nationally, according to ESPN Rise. The Dorados had won 18 straight, but Nogales ended that with a 5-4 win in nine innings Tuesday near the border.
The game featured two arms bound for D-I schools, CDO's Vicente Teran (Tennessee) and Nogales' Keith Zuniga (Arizona), the future Wildcat earning the win.
• Pueblo hoops star Michael Perez was the MVP of the SWS Senior Showcase in Gilbert last weekend, in front of a number of juco and college coaches.
StarNet poll question
Who is the best boys tennis player in Southern Arizona?
Last week's results
Who is the best girls tennis player in Southern Arizona?
1. Lauren Amos, Salpointe Catholic (45 percent); T2. Zaina Sufi, Catalina Foothills; Shannon Contreras, Ironwood Ridge; Courtney Amos, Salpointe Catholic (11).
Visit varsity.azstarnet.com to vote and find the latest sports stats.