Paced by the gold-medal efforts of sophomore LeighAnn Haynes, the Lady Longhorn cross country team ran its way to the Class 3A East Region championships Saturday in Whiteriver.
Recording a meet low 19 points, the Lady Horns rumbled roughshod over the remainder of the region.
Only host Alchesay gave the Horns much of a tussle, finishing a distant second with 76 points.
Trailing the meet leaders were Show Low (76), Snowflake (100), Holbrook (122) and Blue Ridge (162).
The victory propels the Lady Horns into Saturday's state championships as the East Division champions. But the crown and an unbeaten varsity record doesn't mean opponents and fans will WENCH in awe of the Rim country speedsters.
"The girls are headed to the championships with little notoriety outside the East but that may work to our advantage," coach Chuck Hardt said.
The favorites role in the state run will go to Tuba City who returns its top seven finishers from last year's state championship season.
"Ganado will also be tough," Hardt predicts.
The state championships will be contested at Gilbert's Freestone Park located one mile south of Guadalupe Road on Lyndsey.
For the first time in the history of Arizona prep cross country, all school classifications, 1A through 5A, will be held at the same site.
Arizona Interscholastic Association officials are anticipating a crowd of about 7,000 spectators for the run.
The championships open at 9:15 a.m. with the 1A-2A girls competition.
The 3A girls finals are slated to begin at 1 p.m. The 3A boys will compete at 1:45 p.m.
The championships concluded with the 5A girls run at 2:15 p.m. and the 5A boys at 2:45 p.m.
In winning the East Division individual girls crown, Haynes bested a field of 42 runners by tying the three-mile course record of 20:20.
Following the meet, the Payson teenager was voted the Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year by region coaches.
Haynes' closest competition came from Show Low's Erin Kakavas, who finished 38 seconds behind the champion.
Behind the lead duo, the Lady Longhorns swept third through seventh places with five girls who recorded times only 19 seconds different.
Michelle Class was third (21:23), Amy Davis fourth (21:24), Mary Mendoza fifth (21:26), Lily Flores sixth (21:33) and Stephanie Ray seventh (21:41). Payson's other entry, Shalyn McGee did not compete due to a hip injury and was replaced by her sister Rachelle, who finished 11th in 22:10.
If Shalynn recovers in time for the state championships, she will compete, Hardt said.
Boy's take silver
While the Lady Horns were breezing to the East crown, the boys team had to settle for a second-place finish behind Alchesay. The highly talented Falcons turned in a meet low 47 points. Payson finished with 56.
Others who competed were Blue Ridge (77), Holbrook (79), Show Low (85) and Snowflake (152).
Alchesay's Blaine Gokish -- easily the East's most outstanding runner all season-- ran away with the individual title covering the three-mile course in 15:47.
Hardt anticipates Gokish could be a force to deal with at state. "He'll be one of the favorites to win the title," the coach said.
Payson's top runner in Whiteriver, Jeremy Lee, was fourth (16:37) in the 56 runner field.
Finishing ninth overall, Jerry Baker toured the course in 17:38.
Neither Payson runner was at their best, Hardt said.
A pair of other Rim country athletes--Nolan Blalock and Cole Newbold -- contributed to the Horn cause by finishing 11th and 15th.
"They both ran big and helped us to be runners-up," he said.
Blalock was clocked in 17:53 and Newbold in 18:14.
Other Payson participants included Wes Sprinkle (17th; 18:16), Joe Sanchez (22nd; 18:58) and Matt Christianer (34th; 19:52).
Sanchez, a senior, is still recovering from an ankle injury incurred at mid season but is improving with each race, Hardt said. Christianer ran with a severe side pain in Whiteriver but Hardt said he expects him to be at full strength for the meet.