With the 3A East regional championships just over the horizon, the Longhorns' thundering three -- Carlan Pontious, Carlos Lopez and David Cluff -- have their sights set on dueling one of the finest runners in the state -- Blue Ridge's Matt Rowell.
During the championships, Oct. 29 in Lakeside, the Payson trio will go head-to-head for the third time this season against Rowell.
Pontious, Lopez and Cluff received their first glimpse of Rowell Sept. 17 at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff. There, the Yellow Jacket speedster easily won the event, touring the 5K course in a very swift 15:55. Cluff was 13th, Pontious 22nd and Lopez 36th.
Just days later in Snowflake, Rowell again ran his way to first place, but this time was pushed to the brink by the Payson runners.
Lopez was second, just five seconds behind Rowell. Two seconds behind Lopez was the third-place finishing Cluff. Pontious placed fifth.
Out-running Rowell will be a huge task for the Payson three, but in high school cross country, upsets are not uncommon.
The Payson cross-country team tuned up for the East title run Oct. 8 at the Jack Boehle Memorial Invitational held at Flagstaff Coconino High School.
Although Rowell was not present, the meet did feature a runner of state championship caliber in Sinagua's Matti Markowski.
The Mustang sensation outran the 72-runner field finishing in 17:16.
For Payson, Pontious was seventh (17:51), Lopez ninth (18:03), Bryson Addington 27th (19:07), Lee Perez 39th (19:45), Robert Walker 55th (20:46) and Jonny Malloy 61st (21:03). Cluff did not compete.
With 110 points, the Longhorns finished fifth in the eight-team field. Hopi and Chinle tied for the championship, with 58 points each.
In the junior varsity competition, the Horns were represented by Hunter Hardt (59th; 24:16), Ollie Lewinson (62nd; 24:38), Pat Vlahovich 65th (26:11), Jeff Day (66th; 26:11) and Matt Jones 70th (27:11).
The Lady Horns entered three runners in the 70-runner field. Alesha Huddlestun was 29th (23:07), Lana Cluff 38th (23:36) and Marquel Waterman 70th (28:15).
The winner, Janeen Yazzi of Winslow, was timed in at 20:09.
The Lady Horns did not receive a team score because they did not field a minimum five runners.