The Lady Longhorn cross country team heads to Whiteriver tomorrow as a strong favorite to nail down the Class 3A East Division championship.
The Lady Horns solidified their role as the division favorites at the 10-team Snowflake High School Invitational, contested Oct. 22 in Snowflake.
There, the Lady Horns ran away with the meet championship recording an invitational-low 38 points.
Winslow finished a distant second with 90. Trailing in the standings were St. Michaels, N.M. (120), Alchesay (138), Snowflake (140) and Many Farms (157).
The Lady Horn team cause was fueled by the fifth-place finish of LeighAnn Haynes, who was timed in 19:22. The individual champion, Latonya Slim of St. Michaels, finished in 18:50.
Other Lady Horn finishers included Shalyn McGee (sixth; 19:27), Amy Davis (eighth; 19:49), Lily Flores (ninth; 19:54), Michelle Closs (10th; 20:06), Stephanie Ray (12th: 20:10) and Mary Mendoza (15th; 20:17).
Following the race, Coach Chuck Hardt praised the efforts of McGee saying "it was a very courageous performance." Closs, he said, ran her best race of the season.
The top-to-bottom showing of the varsity starters also drew accolades from the coach. "The team continues to improve. In mid-September, the top seven girls were separated by one minute and 54 seconds. At Snowflake (the separation), dropped to 55 seconds."
Behind a second-place finish from junior Jeremy Lee, the boys' team ran its way to runner-up honors with 74 points. Winslow's tally of 41 took the invitational gold.
Alchesay (107) was third and Valley Sanders (117) fourth.
Several East teams the Horns will face at the divisionals Saturday struggled in the meet. Blue Ridge was sixth (135), Snowflake seventh (182), Show Low ninth (198) and Holbrook 10th (228).
In finishing as the individual silver medalist, Lee was clocked in at 15:22, just 27 seconds behind the overall winner Blaine Goklish of Alchesay.
Other Payson varsity competitors in the 64-runner field included Nolan Blalock (17th; 16:51), Wes Sprinkle (22nd; 17:04), Cole Newbold (25th; 17:14), Joe Sanchez (32nd; 17:46) and Matt Christianer (42nd; 18:11).
For Newbold, the finish earned him his first-ever varsity medal.
Sanchez, a senior, is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered weeks ago, but if the Horns are to do well at the divisional meet, he'll have to pick up the pace.
"We will need his help," Hardt said.
The coach also praised the efforts of Blalock and Sprinkle.
"Nolan is running very well and Wes keeps improving," he said.
For many of the youngsters on the team, the Snowflake Invitational represented the final race of the season, and for one athlete, it was the final event of her high school career.
Senior Lyndsey Heizer wrapped up four years of cross country participation finishing 11th in 23:39.
Because there are no jayvee runs at division and state meets, the season concluded in Lobo land for Shaina Vaught (third; 21:36), Sara Siverson (12th; 23:40), Samantha Meyers (13th; 23:41), Sara Hummer (14th; 24:11) and Cassandra McNac (15th; 24:23).
Senior Brandyce Engler, who participated in the sport only one year, was 17th in 25:30.
The showing, Hardt said, was the best of the season.
The coach also acknowledged Engler as an athlete "who brought a lot of positives to our program." Although Engler did not qualify for the team that will travel to the division finals, she has opted to continue to work out with the team members.
Among the jayvee girls, first- and second-place finishes at Snowflake mean Rachelle McGee and Katrina Beeler will hold down slots as alternates on Payson's division team. McGee was timed at 20:38 and Beeler at 21:03.
Doin' the right thing
Danny Malloy's season is over, but the youngster went out in an explosion of honesty that would swell the merit-badged chest of an Eagle Scout.
At the awards ceremony, Malloy was honored as the 12th-place finisher and given a medal. However, he quickly disqualified himself, saying he had erroneously taken a wrong turn.
"He came forth and told meet management he took a short cut by mistake," Hardt said.
In the jayvee field of 29 runners -- after Malloy DQ'ed himself --Payson's only representatives were Alex Cassuto (20th; 19:28), Martin Garcia (21st; 19:29) and Chicago Houdek (22nd; 19:58).
Cassutto and Garcia will serve as alternates on the varsity team that will represent Payson in Whiteriver.
Top four team finishes at the division meet will qualify the entire Payson teams for the state championships Nov. 6 at Freestone Park in Gilbert.
The 3A girls are slated to run at 1 p.m. and the boys at 1:40 p.m.