Entering the Four Corners Invitational Sept. 21 in Flagstaff, coach Chuck Hardt and his defending state champion Lady Longhorns were hoping to put on a strong showing that would earn the team an invitation to the prestigious Tempe Conley Invitational later this season.
In the history of the PHS girls cross country program, the team has had only two invites. Those came the last two years when Payson featured running star Whitney Hardt in its lineup.
Whether the Lady Horns' eighth-place finish in Flagstaff impressed Conley officials enough to offer Payson an exclusive invitation won't be known for a few weeks.
What the Four Corners meet did immediately afford the Lady Horns was the chance to go up against some of the state's most acclaimed teams.
Host Flagstaff, a strong favorite to win the Class 4A state championship, dominated the proceedings, finishing with a meet-low 28 points.
Class 3A Hopi, a favorite for the 3A title, finished second with 71 points. Payson carded 250 points in the 20-team field.
Mingus' Ariel Latimer captured individual honors finishing in 18:59. Lady Horn fans remember Latimer as the runner who last year battled Whitney Hardt in several classic matches.
This year, Hardt has moved to Springerville and is a member of the Round Valley cross country team.
For Payson, top honors in Flagstaff went to senior Rachelle Jones. Her time of 22:22 was 26 seconds faster than the time she ran over the same course Sept. 7 at the Peaks Invitational.
Only a first-year member of the team, Jones has been called the heart and sole of the squad by coach Hardt.
Also from Payson, Shalynn McGee finished 41st in 23:49. Payson senior Ashli Herrera finished in 52nd place with a clocking of 24:31.
Alesha Huddlestun (66th; 25:24), Lacy Myers (71st; 25:25), Becca Easton (79th; 26:52) and Amy Davis (81st; 27:02) also represented the Lady Longhorns.
The Lady Horns return to invitational action tomorrow (Saturday) when the team travels to Lakeside to challenge most of the East region teams including host Blue Ridge. Start time is 1 p.m.