The Payson High Longhorns will have the opportunity to test their running prowess against most of the East region powers when Blue Ridge Invitational cross country action begins to unfold at 1 p.m. Sept. 28 in Lakeside.
Expected to participate are East squads representing Round Valley, Show Low, Snowflake, Alchesay and Blue Ridge. Several schools from the North, including Holbrook, are also slated to compete.
At a four-way meet held Sept. 13 in Saffell Canyon near Eagar, it was the Holbrook Roadrunners and their ace, John Harmon, who gave the Longhorns their greatest competition.
With 33 points, the Roadrunners finished a close second to the meet-winning Longhorns who tallied 22 points. Round Valley (55) was third and Show Low (57) fourth.
Harmon won individual honors in the 26-runner field. Running the 2.6-mile rocky, hilly course in 14:22, Harmon easily outdistanced runner-up Joe Behrens of Payson. Behrens was clocked in 15:09.
Trailing Behrens was a trio of Longhorns including Dustin Rodgers (third; 15:30), Tanner Morgan (fourth; 15:43) and Brian Langeliers (fifth; 15:45).
Although the Horns didn't sport the individual champion, the team's second- through fifth-place finishes enabled the Rim runners to post the meet-winning score.
That type of "pack running" is the strategy coach Chuck Hardt has long advocated to be the key to team success.
Also, having four runners finish within 36 seconds of one another is a good sign this time of year, Hardt said.
The Horns might have had another runner in the mix if junior Daniel Jacobs hadn't developed a side stitch midway through the race. Jacobs eventually finished 10th in 17:47.
Despite his youth and inexperience, freshman Tommy Ashby put on a good showing, running to 14th place in 17:53.
Others representing the Longhorns were Josh Sprinkle (15th; 18:00), Steve Colbertson (18th; 18:25), Paul Welch (20th; 18:55), Jason Knoell (23rd; 19:51), Kevin Murphy (25th; 20:34) and Jonny Malloy (26th; 20:36).
Hardt said, with this first-place finish, this year's Horns seem to be stronger than the team that finished as East region runnerups last season.
In addition to the Blue Ridge Invitational, the Horns will have another opportunity to test their mettle against East teams when the Alchesay Invitational is contested Oct. 11 in Whiteriver.
Last season, it was Alchesay who beat Payson for the East title.
The highlight of the home season for the Longhorns and their fans will be the annual Sludge to the Judge run to be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 25. The race, which is run on Main Street, is a traditional part of Payson High School's homecoming festivities and parade.
The season peaks Nov. 1 at the East regional championships in Whiteriver and at the state championships slated for Nov. 9 near Anthem.