Payson High School's first taste of Class 4A Grand Canyon region cross country competition was a savory bite that has the athletes pleading for more.
The season-opening delight -- which drew Grand Canyon members Flagstaff Sinagua, Mingus, Payson, Class 2A Scottsdale Christian and Show Low and Blue Ridge from the 3A East region -- was contested Sept. 3 at Payson Golf Course. There, the Longhorns posted a meet-low 26 points to coast to the victory. Trailing Payson were Mingus (68), Scottsdale (68), Sinagua (89), Blue Ridge (114) and Show Low (114).
The Longhorns' win over the two Grand Canyon schools stamps the Payson boys team as one of the favorites to win the region title Nov. 1 in Flagstaff.
Top individual honors in the meet were reaped by senior Tanner Morgan, who toured the 3.2-mile circuit course in 17:48. His nearest competition, a Scottsdale runner, finished 12 seconds behind him.
Although Morgan's first-place finish was impressive, it was Payson's overall team strength that caught the attention of fans and coaches. The Longhorns placed five runners in the top 10. They included Joe Behrens (4th; 18:33), Brian Langeliers (5th; 18:39), Dustin Rodgers (7th; 20:05) and David Cluff (9th; 20:18). Freshman Carlos Lopez, who opted as a freshman to run cross country rather than play football, proved he has the potential to be a prime time runner by finishing 11th in 20:26. His ET was only one second shy of earning him a top 10 finish.
Payson fans have come to expect the outstanding meet efforts turned in by Morgan, Behrens, Langeliers and Rodgers.
Cluff's and Lopez's showings were a pleasant surprise that could mean the roster features more depth than it has sported in the 10-year history of the program.
Also, the demonstration of pack running the Longhorns put on is exactly what coach Chuck Hardt has long proclaimed to be the key to winning regional and state honors.
By placing seven runners in the top-15, the Horns were able to keep their point total low and increase the scorecards of their opponents
Also representing Payson in the 71-runner field were Tommy Ashby (14th; 20:45), Lance Chabot (16th; 21:14), Cody Stewart (22nd; 21:45), Jeff Little (30th; 22:21), Ryan Sundra (31st; 22:25), Jon Malby (33rd; 22:33), Barry Hartell (36th; 22:48), Zack Belcher (37th; 22:55), Aaron Valdez (38th; 23:02), Tommy Cain (43rd; 24:01), Hunter Hardt (47th; 24:15), Eric Lammers (48th; 24:40), Brandon Van Zile (56th; 25:38), Troy Jenkins (60th; 26:18), Greg Lord (62nd; 26:46) and Cade Connolly (68th; 29:56).
The Longhorns return to action Sept. 6 at the Four Corners Invitational in Flagstaff. There, the team will again be pitted against several of the Grand Canyon region teams. Also on hand will be the traditionally tough cross country teams from the Northern Arizona reservation schools.