At 4 foot, 8 inches and 65 pounds, 13-year-old Kari Hardt doesn't look to be the prototype of a standout athlete.
But when it comes to the sport of cross country, the Rim Country Middle School eighth grader has few peers.
Hardt stamped herself the premier runner in the state last weekend by winning the Arizona State Middle School/Junior High Championship held at Cesar Chavez Park in Phoenix.
Competing against a field of 233 girls that included most of the topnotch runners from northern Arizona reservation schools, Kari turned in a clocking of 12:14 over the 2.1-mile course.
The youngster's nearest competitor trailed her across the finish line by about 40 meters.
But winning easily didn't appear to be a possibility for Kari when the start gun fired.
"The other runners went out really fast and after the start there was kind of a narrow area we had to run through. A lot of the runners fell down," she said.
The fast early pace and the mad scramble caught Kari by surprise. But by the time the field had reached the halfway point, the leaders began to falter and the Payson youngster made her move.
"After the first mile, I took the lead," she said.
With coach Carolyn Fruth and Kari's family looking on, the youngster put on her patented late kick that has carried her to many victories in both cross country and track and field.
Now that she has earned the right to be called the state's best middle school/junior high cross country runner, Kari says she's looking forward to next fall when she will join her older sister Whitney on the Lady Longhorn varsity.
Only recently, Whitney a sophomore at PHS was named the East region's most outstanding cross country runner.
With Whitney and Kari in the prep fold, Longhorn coach Chuck Hardt the girls' uncle will have a one-two running punch few teams in the state can match.
Before departing the middle school sports scene, Kari has one wish.
"I hope a lot more students go out (for cross country). It's a lot of fun and they (the students) need to be encouraged to (participate)," she said.
For Fruth, who was in her first year of coaching cross country at RCMS, having the state's best on her team was a thrill.
"I felt very privileged to work with Kari .... I wish everyone had the work ethic she does," the coach said.
Traveling to Phoenix to participate in the championships with Kari were 13 teammates including seven girls and six boys.
The championships marked the conclusion of the fall campaign for the RCMS teams.
On Monday, wrestling and volleyball practices began at the school.