A talented Longhorn boys cross country team that could make considerable noise in the 4A Grand Canyon Region title chase debuts tomorrow against Alchesay, Blue Ridge, Mingus, Seton and Snowflake. Start time is 3:15 p.m. at Payson Golf Course.
In addition to fielding a strong boys' team, veteran coach Chuck Hardt is excited about Lady Longhorn potential partly due to the presence of senior Jenny Cohen. Last spring, as a member of the PHS track and field team, Cohen turned in a sizzling 5:24 mile.
As a first-year cross country performer, Cohen's challenge will be to see if she can come up with the same type of performances over longer distances. Cross country runs are usually about 5K or 3.1 miles in length.
Cohen will join forces with returning letter winner Alysha Huddlestun to give Payson a pair of topnotch runners. At the 2002 East championships, Huddlestun was 7th. Returning letter winners Autumn Herrera and Becka Easton were expected to play prominent roles on the Lady Horn team this season, but after three weeks of preseason training, the two opted to quit the team.
Their decision rocked Hardt who must now scour his lineup to find adequate replacements for the two.
Freshman Lauren Stewart could fill the shoes of one of the departed pair. Last year, as a member of the Rim Country Middle School track and cross country team, Stewart was one of the most accomplished runners in White Mountain League competition.
Optimism on the boys' front is fueled by the presence of a foursome of runners -- Tanner Morgan, Joe Berhens, Dustin Rodgers and Brian Langeliers. The four led the Longhorns to a fifth-place showing in last fall's Class 3A state championships. The finish was the best effort ever turned in by a PHS boys cross country team.
Rodgers returns to the Payson fold as a 17th place finisher (17:07) at last year's state championship. Only one second behind him in 18th place was Morgan. Behrens was 21st, and Langeliers took 23rd.
During preseason practices and conditioning sessions, the four have been working diligently to become even better performers.
The No. 5 runner the Horns need in the lineup to be successful could be sophomore Tommy Ashby. "He's been working really hard in practice," Hardt said.
Following tomorrow's meet, the team returns to action Sept. 6 at the Peaks Invitational in Flagstaff. There, the Horns will battle some of the best cross country teams in the state including several talented squads from Northern Arizona reservation schools.