In their home debut Sept. 5 at Payson Golf Course, the Lady Horns shook off a 10th-place finish at the season-opening Flagstaff Peaks Invitational by running their way to a first-place finish.
With 25 points, Payson was the toast of the invitational that also included teams from Mingus (64), Fountain Hills (70), Scottsdale Christian (83) and Blue Ridge (83).
Paving the way to the run was sophomore sensation Whitney Hardt, who toured the 3.2-mile course in 20:50. Her greatest competition came from Mingus' Ariel Latimer (second, 20:55).
Hardt, the 3A state silver medalist last season, will not have to fend off any challenges from Latimer in the state championships because Mingus is a Class 4A school.
In addition to Hardt's fine showing, the Horns received standout performances from Michelle Closs, Lily Flores and Shalyn McGee. Closs was fourth (23:20), Flores fifth (23:23) and McGee sixth (23:36).
That type of pack running, when at least four of the team's five runners finish in the top-10, helped the Lady Horns earn the state silver medal last season. Those types of performances could set the stage this year for a run at the school's first state cross country championship.
Payson's fifth runner, senior Rachelle McGee, finished 11th, only 4 seconds out of the top-10. She was timed in 24:41.
The Lady Horns are set to return to Flagstaff Saturday to participate in the Four Corners Invitational on the campus of Flagstaff High School. There, Payson will lock horns with many of the same teams that participated in the Peaks Invitational, including host Flagstaff.
The powerful Eagles ran away with the Peaks title outperforming Class 5A powerhouses Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe.