As the state's 11th-ranked team, the Lady Longhorns travel tomorrow (Saturday) to Tempe to participate in Arizona's most prestigious cross country clash the 28th Annual Conley Cross Country Invitational.
On hand to battle the two-time defending regional champion Longhorns will be 19 of the state's best teams including No. 1 ranked Tempe Desert Vista. Second-ranked Mountain Ridge, third-rated Hopi and powerful Chinle are also expected to contend for meet laurels.
The Conley meet annually pits Arizona's top ranked teams based on a coach's association poll against one another. Because the event crosses school size classifications inviting 2A through 5A teams it is billed as more competitive than season-ending state championships.
Prior to last week, a Payson High team had never received an invitation to compete in the for-all-the-marbles showdown.
But, thanks to several championship showings this fall including winning efforts at the Alchesay, Blue Ridge, Fountain Hills and Payson invitationals Payson finally earned a much-coveted berth in the Tempe event. Payson's jump from 14th to 11th in this week's coaches' association poll could also have prompted judges to take notice of Lady Longhorns.
The 3.1-mile Conley course at Tempe Kiwanis Park will take the runners over grassy hills, a gravel canal road and atop concrete and asphalt paths. Following the competition, officials will award commemorative plaques to the first- through fifth-place finishers and medals to the sixth- to 30th-place runners.
The girls run is set to begin at 3:15 p.m.
Sludge to the Judge
The Lady Horn contingent will enter the Tempe run fresh off a record-setting victory in the Sludge to the Judge homecoming run contested Sept. 29 on Payson's Main Street.
In the 22-33 win over archrival Fountain Hills, the Horns highly talented one-two punch of Whitney Hardt and LeighAnn Haynes easily eclipsed the meet record of 15:54 set in 1997 by Fountain Hills' Anne Kyrn.
In winning the race, Hardt a freshman was timed in 15:05. Only seven-tenths of a second off her pace was Haynes.
Making Haynes' clocking ever more impressive was the improvement over last year's effort when she was timed in 16:23.
With Hardt and Haynes in their stable, the Lady Horns will take to Tempe a pair of highly talented athletes capable of running on even terms with the state's premier performers.
The Lady Horns will also sport several other rapidly improving long-distance threats including Shalyn McGee and Michelle Closs.
In the Sludge run, McGee sped her way to fifth place in 16:40. Closs was hot on her heels in sixth place (16:42).
Like Haynes had done in the race, both athletes posted times that represented significant improvements over 1999. Last year, McGee was clocked in 16:57 and Closs in 15:16.
Also adding fuel to the Longhorn fire in the Sludge triumph were Lily Flores (8th; 17:06), Amy Davis (11th; 17:29), Sarah Hummer (12th; 17:29), Mary Mendoza (13th; 17:50), Ashli Herrera (14th; 19:40) and Stephanie Marrs (15th; 22:57).
Boys lose; coed title stays in Payson
The Longhorn boys team was not quite as fortunate as their female counterparts, falling 24-33 to Fountain Hills.
However, when both the boys' and girls' scores were combined for a coed tally, Payson emerged victorious 55-57. With the triumph, the Longhorns retain possession of the Sludge to the Judge traveling trophy.
Pacing the efforts of the boys in the 2.3-mile run on Main Street was the trio of Cole Newbold, Wes Sprinkle and Daniel Jacobs.
Newbold was third (14:04), Sprinkle fourth (14:05) and Jacobs fifth (14:11).
The winning time of 14:01 was turned in by Stephanie Roach of Fountain Hills. Only a second behind was teammate Austin Brown.
Others representing Payson in the 29-runner field were Noah Barnes (10th; 14:58), Joe Behrens (11th; 15:05), Martin Garcia (12th; 15:11), Daniel Malloy (16th; 15:58), James Rivas (19th; 17:09), Tanner Morgan (20th; 17:19), Troy Marrs (21st; 17:24), David Curtiss (24th; 18:11), Josh Sprinkle (25th; 18:14), Andrew Crane (26th; 18:37) and Michael Closs (27th; 18:39).
The boys team, accompanied by the junior varsity girls, will travel today (Friday) to Whiteriver where they are scheduled to compete in the Alchesay Invitational in Whiteriver.
The meet starts at 1 p.m. with the jayvee girls competition. Jayvee boys, varsity girls and varsity boys will follow.
The invitational will be preceded at 11 a.m. with a middle school run.
The Rim Country Middle School Mavericks, in only their second year of existence, will participate.