Roster depth has long been a huge factor in deciding the outcome of prep sporting events. But never was it more important than at the Blue Ridge Invitational Sept. 24 in Lakeside.
In one of the most unusual scenarios in prep cross country, Hopi and Payson deadknotted for the championship of the 11-team showdown, with 55 points each. In a tie breaker, meet officials decided to award first place to the team with the highest sixth-place finisher.
Hopi's sixth-place entrant was 28th in the 77-runner field. Payson's sixth-place runner, Jonny Malloy, was 43rd. Which meant, the invitational gold was awarded Hopi.
While the nip-and-tuck battle for first place in the team standings took center stage, it was the individual battle between Payson's Thundering Three of Carlan Pontious, David Cluff and Carlos Lopez that captured the attention of local fans.
All season long, the trio have battled one another for the honor of being called Payson's finest.
Cluff has had the upper hand most of the early season, besting his two teammates in the Monsoon 5K, the Sue Fletcher Invitational in Sierra Vista and at the Flagstaff Four Corners meet.
Last week, Lopez staked his claim as the Horns No. 1 runner by outlegging his teammates in a four-way meet in Snowflake.
At the Blue Ridge Invitational Sept. 24 in Lakeside, Pontious returned to the team's top spot that he held most of last season by finishing ahead of both Lopez and Cluff.
Touring the course in 17:31, Pontious was third overall, one second ahead of the fourth-place finishing Lopez. Cluff was fifth in 17:38.
The drama of crowning the Longhorns running ace will continue to unfold Sept. 30 at the Sludge to the Judge run along Main Street.
Pontious enters the homecoming event -- the Horns' premier run of the home schedule -- as the defending champion. His 2004 winning time of 13:01 broke the previous PHS record of 13:03 set in 2002 by Joe Behrens. Start time for the Sludge to the Judge is 1:45 p.m.
More Horns shine in Lakeside
Although the Thundering Three are Payson's leaders, there are several honor varsity runners who contributed to the Longhorn cause.
At the Blue Ridge Invitational they included Lee Perez (19th; 18:34), Bryson Addington (26th; 18:51), Jonny Malloy (44th; 19:59) and Robert Walker (55th; 20:23).
On the junior varsity level, Daniel McGee led the Longhorns to a victory in Lakeside by running to a third-place finish overall in 20:02. Behind McGee's efforts, Payson compiled a meet low 35 points. With 38, Mingus was second. Trailing were Fountain Hills (74) and Blue Ridge (76).
Also representing the Longhorns junior varsity were Max Siverson (seventh; 20:29), Tommy Ashby (eighth; 20:39), Trevor Day (15th; 22:02), Levi Neal (17th; 22:26), Ollie Lewinson (21st; 23:21), Pat Vlahovich (23rd; 23:55), Jeff Day (26th; 24:36), Hunter Hardt (29th; 24:44), Matt Jones (30th; 24:57) and Brian Schwind (35th; 26:06). A field of 39 runners competed in the jayvee clash won by Mychal Vannette of Mingus in 19:43.
Lady Horns add one
The Lady Longhorn cross country team is now just one runner shy of fielding the mandatory five entrants needed to receive a team score in prep meets.
Marquel Waterman became the Lady Horn's fourth runner, joining Alesha Huddlestun, Lana Cluff and Sarah Agnes who have been with the team since August.
In a 67-runner field at the Blue Ridge Invitational, Huddlestun led the Payson contingent, finishing 14th in 22:32. Cluff was 23rd (23:25) and Agnes 42nd (25:06).Waterman came in 64th (28:39). Janeen Yazzi of Winslow won the event in 20:11.