With a make-up meet and the team's premier event of the season on next week's agenda, the Longhorn cross country teams have both home and away opportunities to showcase their talents.
The first clash is an Oct. 6 visit to Whiteriver for the Alchesay Invitational, originally scheduled for Sept. 15, but postponed because of inclement weather.
After returning from Whiteriver, the teams will have only one day of rest before leaping running shoes first into the annual "Sludge to Judge" homecoming run.
The Oct. 8 meet is slated to begin about 1:20 p.m. at the Northern Gila County Sanitary District and conclude 2.3 miles later in front of the county offices at the corner of Main Street and the Beeline Highway.
Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel traditionally serves as the official judge of the race and will do so again this year.
The event picked up its unusual moniker because it begins at a sanitary plant and ends at the JP's office -- hence "Sludge to Judge."
The Horns opponent, the Fountain Hills Falcons, are expected to bring to Payson a powerful, talent-laden team.
Following the Sludge runs, the festivities continue with the annual homecoming parade down Main Street and the football game and dance later that evening.
New to homecoming this year will be a one-mile run that will pit the inaugural Rim Country Middle School Maverick cross country team against the Blue Ridge Blue Jays. The meet -- dubbed the Saw Mill Mile -- will begin at 1 p.m.
Yellow Jackets host invitational
Both the boys' and girls' teams prepped for the upcoming week of action Sept 25 at the Blue Ridge Invitational held over a 3.05-mile course at Lakeside's Woodland Park. Nineteen schools from around the state -- including Class 4A Flagstaff and 5A Gilbert Mesquite -- participated in the run.
Payson's best showing was turned in by the varsity girls who edged runner-up Winslow by two points. As invitational champions, Payson finished with 77 points; Winslow accumulated 79 and bronze-medalist Flagstaff 101.
In the varsity boys' run, Payson did not earn a team score because the Horns did not have the required five runners complete the race. Payson's fifth entry, Joe Sanchez, started but did not finish due to a severe ankle injury. Hopi won the boys' title with 24 points. Alchesay (93) was second and Winslow (101) third.
In jayvee competition, the Payson girls ran their way to a runner-up showing with 49 points. Champion Flagstaff tallied 37.
The jayvee boys, like their varsity counterparts, did not earn a team score because only four participated.
In winning the Blue Ridge championship, the Lady Longhorns had unexpected help from the team's five, six and seven runners who are known in cross country jargon as "pushers." Their responsibility is to run as well as possible to "push" the opposition's point total higher.
Lady Horns Mary Mendoza, Shaina Vaught and Katrina Beeler did just that for the team cause.
By finishing 20th, 31st and 34th, the trio "pushed" Winslow's number-five runner's score by two points, which eventually proved to be Payson's winning margin.
Mendoza and Beeler's elapsed times were both over two minutes faster than what they recorded last year over the same course.
Coach Chuck Hardt applauded the efforts of the three saying, "It was a great example of why runners five, six and seven are so important to a team's success."
In the field of 92, the Lady Horn's best performances were posted by Leighann Haynes (10th; 22:15), Lilly Flores (12th; 22:28), Stephanie Ray (16th; 22:45) and Amy Davis (23:03). Haynes, Flores and Davis are only sophomores on a very young team that has just few seniors.
Hardt said Haynes ran a gutsy race, competing with a major side pain and Flores turned in one of the best efforts of her career. The winning time in the run, 20:21, was recorded by Jana Stirling of Mesquite.
The jayvee girls silver-medal effort in Lakeside was paced by Shalyn McGee (first; 23:25), Rachelle McGee (second; 23:34) and Michelle Closs (third; 23:49).
Junior Jeremy Lee paced the boys' team with a 10th-place finish in 17:43. The champion in the 97 runner field, Gilbert Lomayaoma of Hopi, was timed in 16:42.
Lee's time was a significant improvement over what he recorded last year when he finished in 19:41.
Trailing Lee in the standings were Wes Sprinkle (38th; 19:24), Nolan Blalock (51st; 20:01) and Jerry Baker (61st; 20:40). Last year, Sprinkle ran a 21:05 and Blalock 21:20.
For the jayvees, Matt Christianer led all PHS runners finishing 19th in 21:26.
Other local runners were Martin Garcia (36th; 22:54), Danny Malloy (54th: 25:32) and Josh Sprinkle (25:35).
The race was the first-ever for both Garcia and Malloy who have only been out for the team the past two weeks.
Garcia is a freshman; Malloy a sophomore.
The jayvee team roster does contain enough athletes to record a team score, however, two did not make the trip and one is out for the season after undergoing elbow surgery.