The Alchesay Invitational cross country meet which highlights today's (Friday) sports scene in Whiteriver will afford the Longhorns the opportunity to preview the teams they must beat to win East regional championships.
Set to join Payson in the invitational are East schools Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Round Valley, Show Low and Alchesay.
Those rivals will meet, for a second time, Nov. 1, at the East championships in Whiteriver.
In today's meet and again in the finals, PHS coach Chuck Hardt has tapped the hosting Falcons as the teams to beat.
The Alchesay boys are the defending East region champions, having edged runner-up Payson last season by four points.
The Alchesay girls were regional silver medalists in 2001 and will be looking to end the Lady Horn's five-year stranglehold on the East championship.
Hardt might be basing his predictions about the strength of Alchesay on the Falcons' showings earlier this season in the Blue Ridge Invitational. In Lakeside, Alchesay ran its way to the girls' championship by outdistancing runner-up Winslow and bronze medalist Payson.
In the boys' competition in Lakeside, Alchesay was second and Payson third behind champion Winslow.
To prep for today's meet and the remainder of the season, Hardt took his charges to Anthem, the site of this year's state championship, for Tuesday's practice session. "We think it will be good for them to go down there and run a little bit," Hardt said.
For the Lady Longhorns, the victory banner has been carried most of the season by senior Rachelle Jones.
The past summer, Jones opted to give up volleyball which she had played since she was a freshman and concentrate on cross country.
Hardt has frequently praised Jones, saying running was a lifestyle for her and she represented the heart and soul of the team.
In most races, Jones has been the frontrunner for the Lady Horns. She's also flourished alongside a strong supporting cast made up of Autumn Herrera, Shay McGee, Alesha Huddlestun, Ashli Herrera and Tanya Davis.
On the boys' team, Tanner Morgan, Joe Behrens, Dustin Rodgers and Brian Langeliers have been the frontrunners most of the campaign.
In the team's most recent outing, Oct. 4 in Winslow, Morgan paced the team with a fourth-place finish overall.
At the Blue Ridge Invitational one week earlier, Behrens was fourth, Morgan fifth, Rodgers 8th and Langeliers 16th.
Because the Longhorn teams have been in action in Payson only once this season Sept. 4 Rim country fans have not had much opportunity to see the teens in action.
That will change Oct. 25 when Payson High hosts the annual Sludge to the Judge homecoming run.
On hand to participate will be Fountain Hills, Round Valley, Blue Ridge and Chino Valley.
The boys' competition will tip off at 1:30 p.m. near the Northern Gila County Sanitary District plant. The course continues down Country Club and onto Main Street before culminating in front of the Gila County complex.
The girls' run immediately follows the boys.