There could be a Rim country running dynasty in the making.
It can be found on the campus of Payson High School where a contingent of eight talented young women practice each day for a shot at someday earning the school's first state cross country championship.
The PHS athletes took a giant step toward nailing down that elusive state crown at the regional championships Friday in Snowflake.
There, the Lady Horns ran their way to the East title, outpointing regional silver medalist Alchesay 22-47.
That triumph paves the way for the Lady Horns state runner-ups last year to enter the Class 3A championships as one of the gold-medal favorites. The state showdown is Saturday at Anthem near Phoenix.
The team's stiffest competition for the state title will probably be supplied by North champion Hopi.
In Arizona Track and Cross Country Coaches Association polls, Hopi and Payson have been tied most of the season for the fifth position. Those rankings include all schools 1A through 5A.
Also from the North region, Ganado, Tuba City and Window Rock are projected to field strong teams that could give the Horns fits.
"There's a lot of competition there (at state)," coach Chuck Hardt said. "I don't think there will be 10 points separating us (North teams and Payson)."
The victory in Snowflake represented the Lady Horns' fourth consecutive regional title.
The past three years, the crowns were earned in the East region.
In 1998, when Payson High was a member of the now defunct Central region, the Lady Horns earned the first of their regional championships.
All season, Whitney Hardt proved to be one of the best runners in the East region.
For the sophomore running star, the regional championships was a continuation of her winning ways.
Turning in a clocking of 18:37 over the 5K course on Snowflake Municipal Golf Course, Hardt easily captured the East individual championship.
Hardt's stiffest competition was supplied by teammate Leighann Haynes, who was second in 20:06.
Although Hardt and Haynes were the main cogs in the well-oiled Horn machinery, coach Hardt has long said that if the Lady Horns are to earn a state title, they will need a strong team effort.
Pack running wins titles because all of the team members finish high in the standings which denies the opposition those slots.
In Snowflake, Payson got just that kind of effort from Lily Flores (fifth; 20:45), Michelle Closs (sixth; 21:01), Shalyn McGee (eighth; 21:27), Amy Davis (10th; 21:41) and Rachelle McGee (22:00).
The girls will now advance to the state championship, where they will represent Payson in its run for the gold. Senior Sarah Hummer, a veteran of the team, travels to state as an alternate.