Payson High School boys' cross country track coach Chuck Hardt is scratching his head wondering where his squad will find the runners necessary to earn a team berth into the state championships Nov. 4 at Gilbert's Freestone Park.
"We'll have to depend on the young kids, maybe freshmen," he said.
To advance to the state run as a team, the Longhorns must finish among the top four at the East regional competition to be held Oct. 28 in Alchesay.
Less than a top-four showing means Payson runners will have to earn individual seeds into the state competition with top 32 finishes at the regional meet.
The fact the Horns might not have the depth necessary to earn a state berth was never more evident than in the Payson Invitational held Sept. 6 at Payson Golf Course. Finishing sixth in the eight-team field wasn't the showing regional crowns are made of.
Tallying 145 points, the Horns were far off the ground-pounding pace of invitational champion Winslow (33).
Trailing the champion Bulldogs were Holbrook (52), Fountain Hills (99), Blue Ridge (114) and Show Low (119).
The bad news in the meet's scenario is that three of those teams Blue Ridge, Show Low and Holbrook are East rivals and if the Horns don't improve greatly, chances for a top four finish next month are slim.
The best showing by a Payson runner was turned in by 12th place finisher Wes Sprinkle who was clocked in 19:45.
The meet champion, a Show Low athlete, finished in 18:02.
Also competing in the 90-runner field for Payson were Cole Newbold (18th; 20:33), Daniel Jacobs (31st; 21:19), Joe Behrens (47th; 22:37) and Daniel Malloy (48th; 22:46).
Among the jayvee runners who competed with the varsity contingent, Payson was paced by Noah Barnes (54th; 23:08), Troy Marrs (60th; 23:44), Tanner Morgan (61st; 23:51) and Josh Sprinkle (66th; 25:03).
The Payson running crew travels to Whiteriver tomorrow (Wednesday) to compete in the Alchesay Invitational. Start time is 4 p.m.