Paced by the running of freshman sensation Whitney Hardt and a strong supporting cast, the Lady Longhorn cross country team captured the Class 3A East Region championship Friday in Whiteriver.
Hardt out-dueled teammate Leighanne Haynes to win the individual crown, touring the 3.2-mile course in 23:00. Following the meet, she was named the East Region's Athlete of the Year. In the runner-up slot, Haynes was just four seconds off Hardt's winning pace.
Payson wrapped up the clean East sweep with Michelle Closs finishing third (24:08) and Shalyn McGee fourth (24:09).
Other Payson runners included Amy Davis (8th; 24:58), Mary Mendoza (9th; 24:59) and Lily Flores (11th; 25:18).
With seven runners in the top 11 finishers, the Lady Horns duplicated the feat that propelled them to last year's East crown.
Compiling a meet low 18 points, the Horns easily bested runner-up Alchesay (64) and third place Pinnacle (87). Blue Ridge (98) was fourth.
With the victory, the Lady Longhorns advance to the state cross country championships, to be held Nov. 4 at Freestone Park in Gilbert. The 3A girls are slated to run at 2:45 p.m.
The Longhorn boys' team was denied a berth at state by a single point.
To earn a state seed a team must finish in the top four at the regional competitions.
With 103 points in Whiteriver, the Horns struggled to a fifth-place showing.
The East's four seeds will go to Alchesay (27), Show Low (70), Pinnacle (90) and Blue Ridge (102).
Longhorn Wes Sprinkle earned an individual seed to state by finishing 13th at the regional shootout.
Top-15 finishers at each of the four region meets are awarded individual berths to state. Sprinkle was timed in 20:52. Boys' champion Blaine Goklish, the defending state 3A champion, won the meet in 18:41.
Sprinkle and the remainder of the 3A boys state field are slated to be off and running at 2:15 p.m.