Longhorn cross country runner Carlan Pontious will be battling butterflies Sept. 7. The Wisconsin transfer will be facing about a three mile circuit at Payson Golf Course that afternoon in a season-opening cross country meet.
Runners from Blue Ridge, Flagstaff Sinagua, Chino Valley and Snowflake will be on hand to battle Pontious and his PHS teammates.
Since his arrival in Payson this spring, coach Chuck Hardt has praised Pontious as the athlete the Horns need to add depth to a roster that already includes Carlos Lopez, Lance Chabot and David Cluff.
At the Monsoon 5K run last month, Pontious showcased some of his potential running to a third-place finish overall.
As good as the top four are, Hardt needs one more runner to fill out his squad. In cross country, five runners compile the team score. He continues to scour the lineup looking for the final key to the team's success.
The coach is predicting the fifth runner will be either Erik Monty or Martin Dorris.
If either steps up, the Horns could have the athletes needed to make noise in a Grand Canyon title chase that includes defending region and 4A state champion Page.
Tomorrow's meet begins at 3 p.m. with a junior high/middle school run. At 3:45, the girls event will begin. The boys race starts immediately after or about 4:15 p.m.
For the Lady Longhorns, a lack of depth could hurt the team's chances for success. Only eight girls are currently out for the team and Hardt expects only one other runner to eventually join the squad. The top five for tomorrow's opener could be Alesha Huddlestun, Shanna Coleman, Sara Agnes, Crystal Sprinkle and freshman Lana Cluff.
In that crew, Huddlestun, Coleman and Agnes are the veterans having competed last season in the regional championships in Flagstaff. There, Huddlestun was 14th, Coleman 32nd and Agnes 36th. None of the three qualified for the state championship.
In prepping for the season, part of Hardt's coaching strategy has been to have the runners participate in goal setting with their teammates.
Each athlete was required to stand up in front of the team and share three or four goals for this season.
"I think it's important to do, to keep them accountable," Hardt said. "If the do what they say, they will be better runners and better individuals."
While the season opener is a key to getting off to a good start, the highlight of the regular season is Sept. 24 at the Sludge to the Judge run on Main Street prior to the homecoming parade. Start time is about 1:30 p.m. Notre Dame, Blue Ridge, Mingus and Tucson Mountain View are slated to participate.