The trio of Alesha Huddlestun, Sarah Agnes and Shanna Coleman are being counted on to lead the Lady Longhorn cross country team into the fall campaign.
"We are very young and those three are about the only girls with much experience," coach Chuck Hardt said.
At the 2003 Grand Canyon region championships held on a 3.1-mile course at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, Huddlestun was 14th (21:15), Coleman took 32nd (24:09) and Agnes was 36th (24:46).
Since only the top three teams and the top-15 individual runners qualified for state, the Lady Horn's lone state representative was Jenny Cohen, then a senior, who placed eighth overall.
As a team, the Lady Horns came up just one point shy of a berth to state. Page nabbed the third and final qualifying slot 96-95 over fourth-place Payson.
Lauren Stewart could be a huge asset to the Lady Horns this year. As a freshman, Stewart ran her way to an 11th place finish (20:58) at the Grand Canyon region championships.
At the highly competitive Holbrook Roadrunner Invitational last fall, Stewart was Payson's third-place finisher behind Cohen and Huddlestun.
The team does have on the roster a promising freshmen in Lana Cluff. At the Monsoon 5K run Aug 7 at Green Valley Park, Cluff -- who starred last season for the Rim Country Middle School cross country team --finished second (23:10) in the 13- to 19-year-old bracket. The only person in her age group to beat her was former Lady Horn cross country stalwart Rachelle Jones (20:54).
With maturity, conditioning and experience, Cluff might soon be capable of matching the fast times posted by Cohen and Jones during their prep careers.
The challenge Hardt has presented to his athletes in early season is to establish a work ethic and become leaders.
"We really need for someone to take on the leadership role," Hardt said. "If we are going to compete, they are really going to have to work."
In after-school workouts, the team gathers in a classroom where Hardt lays out the conditioning plans for the day. The athletes are then released to begin the training they hope will carry them to running success.
Hardt expects defending region and state champion Flagstaff will again be the team to beat.
Although the Eagles lost three runners to graduation, the team has enough seasoned athletes returning to field a solid squad.
Payson will have the opportunity to test just how high the Eagles can soar Sept. 18 at the Four Corners meet in Flagstaff.
The Lady Horns make their 2004 debut Sept. 8 at the annual Payson Golf Course three-mile run. The 3:30 p.m. high school run will be preceded at 2:30 by a junior high/middle school competition.