The Lady Longhorn cross country team now knows who its chief competition will be for the Class 3A Arizona State championship.
The team to beat is 3A newcomer Hopi. The Lady Horns found out just how tough Hopi is at the Sept. 22 Blue Ridge Invitational in Lakeside. There, Hopi outdueled Payson 36-32 while the rest of the field including Winslow, Alchesay, St. Michaels and others struggled across the finish line as distant also-rans.
Hopi's victory is a real head turner among the state's cross country fans since the Payson girls have steamrolled over every 3A foe they have faced this season.
The Lady Longhorns are currently ranked among the state's top-10 teams.
The four points that separated the Hopi and Payson in Lakeside is not an unsurmountable obstacle for the Lady Horns to overcome at state.
After all, the Horns sport the state's premier 3A athlete in sophomore Whitney Hardt who won the 3.1 mile event at Woodland Lake Park in 20:04.
Other Payson runners in the 77-person field included LeighAnn Haynes (7th; 21:39), Lily Floss (9th; 21:43), Michelle Closs (13th; 22:02), Amy Davis (16th; 22:21) and Rachelle McGee (44th; 24:43).
With more conditioning and seasoning, the crew could improve enough to carry Payson past Hopi when the state showdown is held Nov. 3.
In junior varsity action at Lakeside, Sarah Hummer finished 11th (25:32) in the 41-runner field.
With a 24th-place finish among the 88 athletes who entered the meet, sophomore Dustin Rodgers was the lone PHS athlete to earn a medal. Meet officials awarded medals to the top-25 finishers.
Rodgers was clocked in 18:42. His efforts fueled the Horns to a sixth-place finish with 170 points. The top three teams were Hopi (52), Winslow (65) and St. Michaels (77).
Also representing Payson were Joe Behrens (28th; 18:54), Brian Langeliers (33rd; 19:17), Dan Jacobs (36th; 19:29), Danny Mallow (49th; 20:08), Martin Garcia (51st; 20:09) and Josh Dahm (54th: 20:50).
The winning time of 17:06 was turned in by a Winslow runner.