by Max Foster
roundup staff reporter
Longhorn cross country coach Chuck Hardt is emphatic the 2001 edition of his team will be an improvement over last year's version.
"We'll be better, much deeper," he said. "We are just looking for leadership."
Last fall, the Longhorns failed to qualify for the state championships after finishing fifth at the East regional finals in Whiteriver. Only the top four teams from each of the state's four regions earn the right to participate in the state championships.
Individually, Wes Sprinkle was the single Payson representative to qualify for the state meet. He did so by running his way to a top 20 East finish. Following the season, coaches tapped Sprinkle an Arizona Coaches Association All-Star participant.
Hardt's confidence that this team will be better is based on his faith is several returning letter winners, a nucleus of promising underclassmen and a senior newcomer.
Among the returning veterans are seniors Cole Newbold and Danny Malloy. The newcomer is Alex Williamson of Young, who was home schooled and took college classes last year.
Josh Dahm, Martin Garcia, Daniel Jacobs and Josh Sprinkle Wes' younger brother form a junior contingent that could pave the way to Longhorn victories.
Among the sophomores expected to contribute to the Horn cause are Joe Behrens, Brian Langeliers, Tanner Morgan, Dustin Rodgers and Jon Millard.
The lone freshman to turn out for the team when preseason practices began Aug. 6 was Steve Cobbertson.
For the Horns to flourish this year, Hardt said, the two seniors must provide leadership and direction for the younger athletes.
"(Malloy) is always there for us and is really prepared this season," the coach said.
Among the younger set, Behrens has the potential to develop into a top-notch runner who could run with the East's best.
Langeliers, Hardt said, is showing a great deal of improvement since joining the team early this month. Last fall, Langeliers played football but gave up the sport following a knee injury.
In Rodgers, the Horns have a young runner who when he's speeding around the PHS track looks the part of a well-conditioned athlete.
The good news in the Horn camp is the PHS runners will not have to contend with the likes of Alchesay's Blaine Goklish and Leland Begay. Both graduated last spring after stamping themselves a pair of the best runners in Arizona's northland.
Even without the two, Hardt projects that Alchesay will again be the team to beat in the East region title chase.
The remainder of the regional field, Hardt said, is somewhat of an unknown. Both Blue Ridge and Show Low could field competitive teams, but the real state powers lie in the North division that Winslow, Ganado, Holbrook and Monument Valley call home.
The Horns open their 2001 campaign Sept. 1 at the Peaks Invitational in Flagstaff. It'll be a biggie, but the highlight of the season will be the Sludge to the Judge run Sept. 28.
The run annually a focal point of the PHS homecoming celebration is held on Main Street just prior to the homecoming parade.