As the lone Payson High School representatives in the Class 4A state cross country championships, Jenny Cohen and Tanner Morgan had the prestige of the program resting on their shoulders.
The two were the only PHS athletes competing Nov. 8 at Anthem because neither the boys or girls teams qualified for state by finishing among the top two at the Grand Canyon regional championships held a week earlier in Flagstaff. Without a team berth, Cohen and Morgan earned individual seeds by virtue of their top-15 finishes in the run.
"Our goal was to medal for the team and for ourselves," Cohen said. She said her fellow team members attended the competition at Anthem.
"It was different not having our teammates (in the competition with us), but we wanted to do well for them," Morgan said.
The two accomplished their goals of earning state hardware by finishing among the top-27 in the field that included the most accomplished runners in the state.
Morgan churned his way to a 24th place showing in the 186 runner field. Competing against 170 prep qualifiers, Cohen was 25th.
Although they were satisfied with their state efforts, both agreed their times were not good over what was billed as a 5K course.
"I've run a lot of 5K's and I know that course was longer," Morgan said. "They changed (the course) from last year."
"We could tell by the times, ours and the other runners. It was more than a 5K," Cohen concurred.
Coach Chuck Hardt also was suspicious that the course was not a true 5K.
"I think the kids are right," he said. "By the times, it appears to have been longer."
Morgan's was clocked in 17:11.96 and Cohen in 21:14.42. Morgan's PR is 16:38 and Cohen's is 20:46.
"At state, we should have set PRs," Morgan said.
Morgan, a senior, was competing in the final state meet of his four-year cross country career.
"That was really different, knowing it was my last one," he said.
Among the best in the field was a teen, Leif Lomeland, whom Morgan faced in several meets during the regular season and at the regional championships. Lomeland paced Page to the state championship by finishing first in the individual standings with a time of 16:01.
The Grand Canyon's other representative, Flagstaff Coconino, was third in the team standings.
At the onset of the race, Morgan found himself lodged in the pack somewhere around 50th place.
"I felt everyone was going out too fast, so I kind of paced myself," he said. "At the end, I was passing a lot of other runners."
Although Cohen is a senior, she was entered in her first state cross country meet.
During her first three years at PHS, soccer and cross country were held during the same fall season. When Payson High moved to 4A circles, soccer became a winter offering and Cohen had the option of being able to participate in both sports.
The state cross country meet, she said, is much different than the track and field postseason competition she has excelled in for several seasons.
"In cross country, you are kind of out there running alone, it's like no one is watching you," she said. "In track, you are in a stadium and it's really intense because there's so much attention on you."
Although Cohen didn't have much cross country experience to draw upon last season, she gradually molded herself into a team leader and one of the more accomplished athletes in the region.
With the campaign at an end, Cohen turned out Monday for Lady Longhorn soccer practices.
Both she and Morgan will graduate next spring. Morgan plans to enlist in the United States Air Force and Cohen would like to attend a four-year university.