A stellar showing at Saturday's Blue Ridge Invitational in Lakeside could earn the powerful Lady Longhorn cross country team a berth in one of Arizona's most prestigious meets.
"We've been told that our performance at Blue Ridge will be a major factor in (earning) an invitation to the Doug Conley Invitational," PHS cross country coach Chuck Hardt said.
The Conley meet, Oct.7 at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, invites only the state's top 20 teams regardless of school size classification.
A berth into the Tempe meet would be a first for the two-time defending region champion Lady Horns.
"We've never even had a sniff before," Hardt said.
In the state's most recent Arizona Track Coaches Association polling compiled Sept. 10 the Lady Longhorns were ranked 14th. That ranking is a marked improvement over last year when the East Division champion Lady Horns finished the campaign in the 20th slot.
The Horns 2000 ranking also represents a commendable accomplishment since the field of competition includes Class 5A "big school" powers Tempe Desert Vista and Glendale Mountain Ridge.
DV is the state's top-ranked team and Mountain Ridge is second.
Also holding down spots in the coaches' poll are the always-tough northern Arizona reservation schools of Hopi (third), Chinle (fourth), Ganado (eighth) and Tuba City (ninth).
What'll it take?
If the Lady Horns are to earn an invitation to the Doug Conley meet with a strong effort in Blue Ridge, the team will need more of the same high-octane performances turned in recently by the big four of Leighanne Haynes, Whitney Hardt, Amy Davis and Lili Flores.
In the squad's most recent outing, Sept. 13 at the fairgrounds in Whiteriver, the Lady Horn foursome dominated the 33-runner field, helping Payson (12 points) easily win the title over host Alchesay (54) and Pinnacle (76)
Staving off hot and dusty weather conditions, Haynes ran her way to the crown touring the three mile-course in 21:54.
Only one second off Haynes' pace was 14-year-old freshman Whitney Hardt the coach's niece. The plebe's runner-up finish represented the second consecutive outing that Hardt has finished hot on the heels of her teammate. Sept. 13 at the Payson Invitational, Hardt crossed the finish line less than a stride behind Haynes.
Just off the pace off of the gold and silver medalists was Davis who, the coach said, ran her best race of the season. With a clocking of 22:15, Davis earned third-place honors. Flores rounded out Payson's four-pronged attack with a fourth-place showing in 22:46.
Winning the top-four medals at any meet would be an outstanding feat for most prep teams. But for the highly talented Horns, it was just the beginning of a long parade of PHS runners that included Michelle Closs (6th; 23:52), Shalynn McGee (7th; 23:54), Mary Mendoza (9th; 24:42), Sarah Hummer (14th; 25:41), Ashli Herrera (29:43), Jennifer Shiflett (27th; 33:27) and Stephanie Marrs (28th; 33:28).
Closs, the East region's defending 1,600 meter track champion, was competing in her first race of the 2000 campaign.
As she rounds into cross country shape, her presence could give the Lady Horns another top-notch runner capable of bringing home a medal.
The all-important Blue Ridge Invitational at Woodland Park in Lakeside is Saturday with the middle school competition at 1 p.m. The Maverick teams, in only their second season of existence, are slated to participate.
High school competition will follow immediately after the middle school run.
Coach Hardt said 20 schools have been invited to the meet including a highly regarded Winslow squad which last year finished second behind the defending meet champion Lady Horns. Several 5A schools, including Gilbert Mesquite, have also been invited.