The Lady Longhorns 16th-place showing at the prestigious Doug Conley Invitational in Tempe was not what coach Chuck Hardt was hoping for from his state fifth-ranked team.
Although the Horns found themselves pitted against the 20 best teams in Arizona, regardless of school size classification, Hardt and his athletes were hoping to finish among the event's top 10 teams.
That type of showing would have further enhanced the Lady Horns' reputation as one of the state's premier cross
Top honors in the invitational were garnered by Class 5A Tempe Mountain Pointe, which finished with a meet low 65 points.
Phoenix Xavier was second with 89 points and Tempe Desert Vista third with 115 points.
With 321 points, Payson was never in contention. However, the only small schools to finish ahead of Payson were Tuba City (fifth; 204) and Hopi (eighth; 246). The other top finishers were all 4A and 5A schools.
Lady Horn sophomore Whitney Hardt did more than her fair share to keep the Payson express on track by running her way to a second-place finish behind Mountain Pointe sensation Sally Meyerhoff.
Meyerhoff, a senior who has become one of the state's best runners, was timed in 17:17 and Hardt in 18:16.
The bad news in the final individual standings was that Hardt was the only Lady Longhorn to crack the top 10.
Most of the season, the Horns have thrived on the sort of "pack running" that coach Hardt says will win state championships.
In that philosophy, it's important that all the team members run together and as close to the front as possible.
That type of running paced the Horns to a gold-medal finish at the Payson Invitational held earlier this season at Payson Golf Course.
With Lady Horn runners finishing first (Hardt), fourth (Michelle Closs), fifth (Lily Flores), sixth (Shay McGee) and 11th (Rachelle McGee), Payson was able to out point runner-up Mingus 27-64.
That didn't happen at the Conley meet, however, and the Horns suffered in the final team standings.
The Horns will have the opportunity to redeem themselves Oct. 13 at the Dave Doerrer Thunderbird Invitational to be held at Phoenix Thunderbird Park.
In preparation for that meet and the regional and state finals two weeks later, the Lady Horns spent much of the school's two-week fall break honing their skills and conditioning in practice sessions at Green Valley Park.