Lady Longhorn cross country coach Chuck Hardt glumly summed up the prospects for the 2006 season saying, "the cupboard is bare."
What he meant is that only one runner over the bare minimum needed for a team score, five, turned out for preseason practices two weeks ago.
"If we had a meet today, we wouldn't have a team because two of our girls are still walking (the course)," he said.
The coach's goal is to have all six girls well-conditioned and running by the time the season tips off Sept. 6 at the 3A East Preview at Payson Golf Course.
As dismal as the future sounds for a program that once annually contended for region and state championships, there are rays of hope.
Lana Cluff, a standout in cross country and track and field last year, returns to the Lady Horn fold buoyed by a year of maturity and experience.
"She trained most of the summer and will take a big step forward this season," Hardt said.
At the 2005 state meet, Cluff led the Lady Horn effort finishing 37th in the 111 runner field.
Also, Rhea Kosay transferred last summer to Payson High from Alchesay.
Kosay is a seasoned runner who finished seventh at the 2005 state meet.
"She is a good one, which should help us," Hardt said.
Also for the Lady Horns, Marquel Waterman returns to the team. Last season, when Payson had only four runners, Waterman turned out for the second half of the season giving PHS the minimum number of runners it needed to compete in prep meets.
Her presence eventually helped the Lady Horns finish a surprising tenth in the state finals.
Joining Cluff, Waterman and Kosay on the team are sophomore Katie Fitch and freshmen Chelsea Smith and Lucy Schouten.
Although Schouten is a newcomer on the high school scene, she starred the past three seasons for the Rim Country Middle School cross country squad.
The Lady Horns debut in Payson at the 3A East Preview and on Sept. 22 will participate in the Sludge to the Judge homecoming run.
-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.