Following a successful inaugural season in which 20 young athletes turned out for the Rim Country Middle School cross country team, Maverick practices opened Monday to a new crop of runners.
At 8:30 a.m. this week, Ellie Hardt is practicing her charges at Rumsey Park. Two-a-days continue through today (Friday). Beginning Monday, traditional 3:30 p.m. weekend sessions will be held.
The second-year coach said she wasn't disappointed with the turnout of 10 athletes on opening day because some youngsters are still on family vacations and others might not turn out until school starts Aug. 16.
Among the missing on the Maverick team was the coach's highly talented daughter, Kari, who is recovering from the rigors of the hectic summer Junior Olympic campaign. Only last week, Kari Hardt was in Buffalo, N.Y. where she competed in the Junior Olympic National Championships.
In assessing her team at midweek, coach Hardt said "they are a great bunch of kids who are working very hard."
One of the youngsters who has caught the coach's eye is sixth-grader Matt Behrens.
"He is going to be an excellent runner," Hardt said.
The youngster gave locals a glimpse of just how good he might be at the 2000 Monsoon 5K Race held Aug. 4 at Green Valley Park. There, Behrens won the 12-years-and-under division, touring the 3.1-mile course in 21:23. His nearest competitor trailed by more than six minutes.
Rendering his time even more impressive is the fact that had he moved to the high school 13-19-years division, he would have also won the competition rather easily. That division title was taken by his older brother Joe in 22:08.
The Mavericks will be one of only three White Mountain League schools fielding cross country teams this fall. The others are Blue Ridge and White River.
Holbrook Junior High, however, is considering forming its first team, which would strengthen the local competition, Hardt said.
The highlights of the home season for the Mav runners will be the Payson Invitational Sept. 6 and the Sawmill Mile event Sept. 29.
The Sept. 6 meet, to be held at Payson Golf Course, will feature the running of the middle school teams at 2 p.m., one hour before the high school girls and boys take to the course. Payson High cross country coach Chuck Hardt said he expects about 300 youngsters middle and high school age to participate in the run.
The Sawmill Mile, which debuted last year, will be conducted as part of the PHS homecoming festivities. The middle school run will begin at 1 p.m. and be followed by the high school "Sludge to Judge" competition.
Later, the traditional homecoming parade down Main Street caps the afternoon's events. The run, Hardt said, should provide her young runners the opportunity to showcase their skills.
Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade RCMS students interested in turning out for the cross country team should call Hardt at 474-4511.