Lady Longhorn sophomore speedster Whitney Hardt bested a field of 108 runners to win the individual girls championship of the Dave Dorrer Invitational Cross Country meet held Saturday at Phoenix Thunderbird park.
In winning the race, Hardt covered the 2.85-mile course in 17:33. Her gold-medal efforts fueled the Lady Longhorns to the invitational team championship among the field of 31 schools.
PHS coach Chuck Hardt said meet officials had not yet finalized the team point standings, but with six runners medaling (top 25 finishes), he was sure the Lady Horns won by a substantial margin over runner-up Gilbert.
The victory was an impressive one for Payson in that most of the schools that participated represented the "big school" class 4A and 5A conference.
"There were only three 3A schools in it (the meet)," coach Hardt said.
Also representing the Lady Horns in the 108-runner field were LeighAnn Haynes (10th; 18:54), Lily Flores (15th; 19:25), Michelle Closs (17th; 19:41), Shay McGee (18th; 19:45), Amy Davis (23rd; 19:57) and Rachelle McGee (51st; 21:28).
The win at Thunderbird set the stage for the Lady Horns to advance to the regional championships to be held Oct. 26 in Snowflake.
Clutching a state fifth-place ranking, the Lady Horns will enter the meet as the overwhelming favorite to win the East crown.
A victory in Snowflake would propel the team into the state championships Nov. 3 at Anthem. There, the team will pursue Payson High School's first state cross country championship.
The team's stiffest competition is expected to come from 3A newcomer Hopi, which edged Payson twice this season in invitational meets. Last season, the Horns finished as state runner-up and lost but one athlete to graduation from that team.