Payson High School's realignment last spring to the 3A East region from the 4A Grand Canyon group, where the school spent the past two seasons, means the cross country team will no longer have to face the powerful defending state champion Page Dust Devils and their running sensation Levi Lomeland.
Page will remain in the Grand Canyon region for at least another two years.
On the Sand Devils' way to the GCR championships last season, Page runners --ho finished first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh in the regional finals -- ended any hopes the Horns had of a top three team finish and a berth in the 4A state championships.
Page's domination was so complete that the Longhorns could not qualify a single runner for state.
Life should be a tad less competitive in the 3A East region where there are some good cross country teams, but none the quality of Page.
For Payson to rebound and be successful this season, the Horns will probably have to rely on the big three of Carlan Pontious, David Cluff and Carlos Lopez.
The trio proved how good they can be by sweeping the first three places at the town-sponsored Monsoon 5K run Aug. 13 near Green Valley Park.
Cluff was timed in 17:59, Pontious in 18:06 and Lopez turned in an 18:56.
Most of the 2004 season, Pontious -- then a sophomore -- was the Longhorns' running ace. One of his best showings was turned in at the Queen Creek Invitational where he was second overall. Also at the meet, Cluff was fifth and Lopez 10th.
In track and field last spring, Pontious, Lopez and Cluff made up three-fourths of the Longhorn 4x800 relay team that finished 11th in the 4A state championships.
With an added year of maturity and experience, the Longhorns' thundering trio could become forces to reckon with.
As good as the three could become, it takes a well-rounded team to challenge for region and state honors.
Roster depth and all-important top-10 individual finishes could come from a band of basketball players who have taken up cross country -- at the urging of newly appointed hoop coach Scott Dean -- to improve their physical condition for the winter hardwood season.
Among those players are Brian Schwind, Oliver Lewinson, Levi Neal, Matt Jones, Hunter Hardt, Tommy Ashby and Bryson Addington.
Some of those newcomers received their first taste of long-distance running at the Monsoon 5K.
In the almost 100-runner field, Ashby took fifth (20:44) Addington was eighth (21:14), Lewinson 16th (24:22), Hardt 20th (24:48), Schwind 28th (25:21).
Also in the 5K representing the cross country team was 10th place finisher Robert Walker (21:53).
Although the Longhorn runners have competed in the Monsoon run, they won't officially begin the season until Sept. 7 at the Payson Golf Course.
New on the schedule this year is the Sue Fletcher Classic Sept. 9 in Sierra Vista.