By pulling off one of the biggest upsets in small-school sports history, the Lady Longhorns ran their way to the 2001 Arizona State cross country championship.
The win, which came Saturday at Anthem near Phoenix, was the school's first state cross country title.
Although the Lady Horns entered the Class 3A showdown as the East region champion and last year's state runners-up, the team was not projected to win the title.
Favorite honors went to Hopi and Ganado partly because both had beaten Payson in regular season action. During the campaign, Hopi whipped the Lady Horns on four different occasions. Tuba City, the defending state champion, owned three victories over the Horns.
Tuba City, Hopi and Ganado also were deemed state champion favorites because of the reputation and tradition that revolves around the northern Arizona reservation schools.
Those schools, whose student bodies are filled with talented and dedicated Hopi and Navajo runners, most always win small school championships. And, when pitted in invitationals against the 4A and 5A schools, the reservation teams usually emerge victorious.
At the conclusion of Saturday's state championship meet, before the results were officially compiled, some fans in attendance, as well as PHS athletes, heard the public address announcer prematurely proclaim that Hopi had won the state championship.
But, when the final results were finally tabulated, Payson was the surprising champ with a meet-low 53 points. Trailing in the team standings were Hopi (65), Ganado (77), Tuba City (90), Window Rock (111) and Alchesay (143).
The five schools all represent Native American reservation communities.
PHS coach Chuck Hardt, who founded the cross country program in 1993 and nursed it through its infancy, said the role of underdog probably helped his girls win the crown.
"I told them that nobody expected anything from us (at state) so there was no pressure. Just go out and run relaxed," he said.
That philosophy could be one of the reasons the athletes "ran as sharp as I've ever seen them," Hardt said.
Turning in an 18:28 clocking, sophomore speedster Whitney Hardt won the individual state championship.
In light of what happened at last year's state meet, the win had to be a sweet one for the 16-year-old. After taking a wrong turn that cost several seconds in the 2000 championship run, Whitney had to settle for second place by the narrowest of margins.
A youngster known on campus for her modesty, Whitney said that she entered the race knowing her greatest competition would probably come from Virginia Begay of Window Rock.
At the Holbrook Invitational held earlier this year, Whitney had to come from behind to nip Begay for first place. But at state, Whitney finished a full 26 seconds faster than the runner-up Begay.
"I took the lead at the start and then pushed myself," she said "It felt pretty good to win."
The Lady Horns championship effort also received huge contributions from the other six team members.
Leighann Haynes was eighth overall in 20:04 and Lily Flores finished 10th in 20:21.
For Flores, the top-10 showing marked the end of a week in which she and her family became naturalized xxxxxx