Payson High School’s cross country team advances today (Friday) to the Class 3A state championships. The team is the East regional runner-up and a long shot to win the school’s first boys state championship.
The 3A boys state run begins at 11:45 a.m. in the community of Anthem north of Phoenix.
The Horns earned the right to send their entire team to the showdown by virtue of a second place finish in the East regional championships Nov. 1 at the Fairgrounds in Whiteriver.
The top four teams from the four regional meets earn berths to state.
Payson’s finish as regional silver medalist marked the third consecutive year the Longhorns have been second behind Alchesay. The Falcons tallied a meet low 32 points. Payson finished with 48.
Trailing the leaders were Blue Ridge (67), Round Valley (93), Snowflake (109) and Show Low (160).
Prior to the meet, coach Chuck Hardt and his charges set their sites on a regional crown. Because some of the Longhorn runners struggled over the three-mile Whiteriver course, it was obvious midway through the race a title was not within grasp.
“We didn’t click on all cylinders,” Hardt said. “They were disappointed they didn’t reach their early season goal of an East championship.”The disappointment, however, won’t put the crimps on preparations for the 3A title chase.
“We will put this behind us and prepare for the state championships. Knowing these kids as I do, I believe this defeat will fill them with the resolve to get better,” he said.
In the state championships, Hardt has tapped Hopi, Tuba City and Window Rock as the favorites.
Payson’s Tanner Morgan turned in perhaps the best performance of his prep career, running to a second place finish in 17:20.
“He ran a very strong race,” Hardt said.
Morgan was just five seconds off the pace set by East region champion Kyle Kokahsay of Alchesay.
Also for Payson, Dustin Rodgers was fourth in 18:10 and Brian Langeliers finished fifth in 18:15.
Following the race, Hardt cited Langeliers for his steady improvement this season.
The biggest disappointment in the Payson charge was the 12th place showing of Joe Behrens (18:52).
Most of the season, Behrens has been the Horns’ No. 1 runner and was fresh off a convincing win in the Sludge to the Judge Payson homecoming run. Behrens struggles were caused mostly by a severe side stitch he developed in the last two miles of the race, Hardt said.
Payson’s Daniel Jacobs, who’s battled his share of maladies this season, finished 12th in 18:52. His time was 1 minute and 11 seconds faster than he turned in on the same course three weeks earlier at the Alchesay invitational.
Also representing Payson were Josh Sprinkle (32nd; 21:15) and Steve 56 (36th; 21:37).