Horns Come Up Short In State Bid

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Only two runners -- Tanner Morgan and Jenny Cohen -- will represent Payson High School when the Class 4A state cross country championships are contested Nov. 8 in Anthem.

PHS was not awarded state team berths because both the boys and girls failed to finish among the top three at the Grand Canyon regional run Nov. 1 at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff.

The Longhorn boys finished fifth overall with 118 points. The three teams from the region qualifying for state were Page (33), Coconino (65) and Chinle (82). With 94 points, Flagstaff was fourth.

In the girls regional competition, the Lady Longhorns came up just one point short of a state team slot. Page nabbed the third and final qualifying position 95-96 over fourth-place Payson. Flagstaff advances to state as the Grand Canyon region champion. Second-place Chinle (76) also will represent the region in the postseason.

Payson's inability to earn a state seed could be attributed to the Longhorns move last year to the Class 4A Grand Canyon region from the 3A conference where PHS had resided for more than two decades.

In some sports, like golf and football, the Grand Canyon region is probably not as competitive as the 3A East. But in cross country, the Grand Canyon 4A region is one of the toughest in the state.

Also weighing heavily against the cross country teams' chances of reaching postseason was the fact each 4A region sends only three qualifiers to state. In the 3A conference, each region sends four schools to the post season.

For the Lady Longhorns, the failure to qualify was the first time the team had missed out on a berth in the 10-year history of the sport at PHS.

At meet's end, it was painfully obvious for the highly disappointed members of both girls and boys squad that the PHS cross country program paid a price for the school's move to the 4A ranks.

"There were some girls shedding some tears," coach Chuck Hardt said. "They were very disappointed, especially the senior (Cohen), because she wanted to lead the team to state."

For the boys, the fifth-place finish at Buffalo Park appeared to be in the cards since the onset of the season when Page, Coconino and Chinle began to flex their muscles.

"Those teams were just better," Hardt said. "They are among the best in Arizona."

Page, almost a shoo-in to earn the 4A championship, is the No. 1 ranked team in the state regardless of school size classification. Chinle is seventh ranked and Coconino is rated 16th. The Payson boys, who probably sported the most talented team in the history of the program at PHS, wrapped up the campaign ranked 20th.

Had the boys been able to wrangle a berth into the state championships, Hardt projected the team would probably finish among the top-10.

Cohen

Jenny Cohen advances to the state showdown as the region's eighth-place finisher. She toured the 5K course in 20:47. Flagstaff's Merry Placer out-dueled 44 runners to win the event in 19:17.

The favorite to claim the title, defending 4A state and regional champion Annie Falor of Flagstaff, did not participate due to an injury.

Eagles coach Sharon Falor, whose team has won three consecutive titles, said the adverse weather conditions -- low temperatures, brisk winds and scattered showers -- also influenced the decision to keep the Flagstaff star out of the race.

Because the Eagles qualified for state as a team, Annie Falor will be able to defend her state title at the 4A championships.

A year ago in the East region, Payson's Lauren Steward (11th; 20:58) and Alesha Huddlestun (14th; 21:15) would be accompanying Cohen to postseason. The 3A conference allows the top-15 regional finishers to participate at state. In the 4A, only the top-10 individuals advance.

Other Lady Horn runners were Brianna Quinlan (31st; 23:22), Shanna Coleman (32nd; 23:41), Lacy Myers (34th; 24:09) and Sarah Agnes (36th; 24:46).

As Cohen practiced alone for state this week, she said she was somewhat anxious about participating in her first postseason showdown.

"I'll be the only Payson runner out there but my teammates are going along to watch me," she said. "Knowing they are there will be a big help."

Morgan

Tanner Morgan will advance to state as the region's sixth-place finisher in 16:38.

At the finish line, he trailed Sinagua Jason Rande by just two seconds.

Brothers Leif Lomeland (first; 16:16) and Levi Lomeland (second; 16:21) of Page dominated the proceedings as they have done all season.

Leif is undefeated against 4A competition. In most meets, the only runner Levi finishes second to is his brother. The boys' father, Mark, won the Grand Canyon Region Coach of the Year honors.

Also representing the Longhorns in the 47-runner field were Brian Langeliers (17th; 17:13), Dustin Rodgers (29th; 17:47), Joe Behrens (31st; 17:55), David Cluff (35th; 18:31), Lance Chabot (36th; 18:39) and Jeff Little (39th; 19:33).

For Morgan, a senior, the state meet will be the final one in his prep career.

"That seems strange to me, knowing it will all soon be over," he said.

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