Only time will tell if the championship effort turned in Saturday in Lakeside was good enough to earn the Lady Longhorns an invitation to one of the state's most prestigious regular season cross country meets.
By winning the 20-team Blue Ridge Invitational, the state 14th-ranked Lady Horns seem likely to receive a berth in the Doug Conley Invitational Oct. 7 at Kiwanis Park in Tempe.
However, at press time Lady Horn coach Chuck Hardt had not yet received an official invitation from Conley meet officials.
"We sit and wait for the call," he said.
Less than one week before the Blue Ridge competition, Hardt was told by Conley officials that the Lady Horns performance in Lakeside would be "a major factor in getting an invitation."
The team responded to the challenge by easily winning the BR crown, outdistancing some of the state's finest teams.
Making the Horns showing ever more impressive was the presence of state 19th-ranked Flagstaff at Blue Ridge..
The Eagles gave the Horns their best competition finishing as runner-up with 49 points. Payson led the pack with 38. Winslow was third and Class 5A Gilbert Mesquite fourth.
Following the competition in Lakeside, Hardt and his charges were mildly surprised to learn that Flagstaff had earlier received an invitation to the Conley meet. That left the Rim runners scratching their noggins wondering where their invitation was.
Former PHS track and field coach Dan Reid a fixture on the state track scene for three decades said he believes a Lady Horn invitation to Tempe is forthcoming.
"The team is just now earning a (statewide) reputation and that's what (Conley officials) are looking for," he said.
The Conley meet annually invites only the state's top-20 teams regardless of school size classifications. A berth into the Tempe meet would be a first for the Lady Horns.
"We've never even had a sniff before," Hardt said.
At Blue Ridge
By placing seven runners in the top 25 finishers, the Lady Horns put on a show of depth and talent few Class 3A teams in the state can match.
The team effort was fueled by the determined running of freshman dynamo Whitney Hardt who outdistanced the 92-runner field, covering the 3.1-mile Woodland Park course in 20:09.
In bringing home the gold, Hardt turned on the afterburners in the last 40 yards to cruise by a Flagstaff runner who finished as runner-up. Until the final few strides, Hardt, the Flagstaff athlete and Payson's LeighAnne Haynes were running neck and neck.
"They battled throughout," coach Hardt said.
Haynes eventually finished third in 20:13, which was a full two minutes faster than she ran last year over the same course.
Proving the competition was indeed fierce was the fact that the meet's defending champion Jennifer Sterling of Mesquite was forced to settle for fourth-place honors.
In addition to the topnotch performances turned in by Hardt and Haynes, the Horn cause received a sizable boost from five other medalists. They included Michelle Closs (10th; 22:05) Amy Davis (11th; 22:07) Shalyn McGee (13th; 22:08), Lily Flores (20th; 22:38) and Mary Mendoza (22nd; 23:01).
Following the race, coach Hardt praised McGee saying she is starting to race and train well. He said Mendoza also looked very good.
The junior set
Because the Lady Horn junior varsity squad only fielded three of the required five runners, no team score was awarded.
Among the Lady Horns who entered the 36-runner field, Sarah Hummer paced the Rim trio finishing fourth in 24:13. Sophomore Ashli Herrera probably more acclaimed for her feats on the basketball court than in cross country earned her first medal, finishing 14th in 26:56.
In 30th place, Stephanie Marrs (30:01) ran her best race of the season, Hardt said.