The roster addition of freshman running sensation Whitney Hardt has added a rock 'em sock 'em punch that could propel the Lady Longhorn cross country team to regional and state honors.
Hardt's past running accomplishments as a member of the Rim Country Middle School team and on a Phoenix-based club squad are well chronicled.
Now competing on the prep level, the 14-year-old had the opportunity to test her skills Sept. 2 at the Peaks Invitational in Flagstaff. There, she finished seventh in a star-studded field that included some of the state's best representing the powerful Northern Arizona reservation teams.
Hardt's inaugural varsity start in front of the home folks came Sept. 6 at the Payson Invitational held on the Payson Golf Course.
Competing on the high school level for only the second time didn't shake the youngster's confidence.
"I was a little nervous, but once the race started, I settled down," she said.
In the eight-team field of 71 runners, Hardt finished as runner-up less than a stride behind veteran teammate LeighAnn Haynes.
Haynes, a junior, toured the 3.1-mile course in 22.00. Hardt was timed in 22:01.
In addition to the strong performances turned in by Haynes and Hardt, the Lady Horns received commendable efforts from Amy Davis, Lili Flores, Shay McGee and Mary Mendoza.
Turning in a clocking of 22:57, Davis was third overall. Flores finished sixth (23:18); McGee, eighth (23:19); and Mendoza, 18th (25:15).
With six runners in the top 18, the Lady Horns put on a show of strength that could lead to an East Region title when the finals are held Oct. 28 in Whiteriver.
But that meet is down the road and the Lady Horns are basking in the glory of the overwhelming win at the local invitational.
With just 20 points, the Payson runners easily kept the meet trophy in the Rim country, out-distancing runner-up Winslow. The Bulldogs stumbled into second place with 59 points.
Trailing the two leaders were Fountain Hills (59), Blue Ridge (133), Pinnacle (134) and Holbrook (152).
In the field, Blue Ridge and Holbrook are East regional rivals. East member Snowflake also participated but was not among the top six finishers.
Adding even more depth to the Horn cause at the invitational were the contributions of Sarah Hummer (25th; 25:59), Ashli Herrera (30th; 27:19), Rachelle McGee (33rd; 27:30), Jen Boyd (48th; 31:03), Jennifer Shiflett (51st; 31:18), and Stephanie Marrs (69th; 35:22),
Herrera, McGee, Boyd, Shiflett and Marrs all participated as jayvee team members.
Tomorrow in Whiteriver, the Lady Horn speedsters will have their opportunity to once again flex their collective muscle at the Alchesay Invitational.
The team's performance there should give coach Chuck Hardt an even better idea how the squad will fare in all-important East regional warfare.
Most all of the East schools are expected to be in Whiteriver and a good performance by Haynes, Hardt, Davis and crew will stamp the Lady Horns the regional title favorites.