A lack of roster depth could hurt the Longhorn cross country team's chances of winning the Class 3A East Regional championship. The finals will be held Oct. 27 at Show Low Park.
"Our top three will do OK, but after that we drop off," veteran coach Chuck Hardt said.
In cross country scoring, a school's top five runners make up a team's point total. The higher the individual finish, the fewer points are tagged onto the team.
Unlike other sports in which the team with the most points wins, in cross country, the school with the fewest points is the winner.
Payson will take to regionals three of the best runners in the East -- Carlan Pontious, Carlos Lopez and Bryson Addington. But, for the Horns to be successful the all-important fourth and fifth runners must turn in at least top-20 finishes.
The remainder of Payson's roster includes Max Siverson, Isaac Cluff, Elden Siverson and Noah Sweet.
Hardt has called the four runners the keys to a regional championship.
"If they do well, we do well," he said.
Examples of how important roster depth is to team success turned up Oct. 19 at the Queen Creek Invitational.
During that meet, the Longhorns tied Canyon State Academy for second place, but CSA was declared the runner-up and Payson fell to third on a tiebreaker that involved the highest finish from each team's sixth place runner.
Since Payson only entered five runners, CSA won the tiebreaker and was declared the meet silver medalist.
Individually, Carlan Pontious ran his way to the meet title with a 14:45 clocking. Lopez was second (15:04) and Addington seventh (15:23).
Lopez would probably have been second had there not been a mix-up in where the finish line was located.
"He stopped too soon," Hardt said. "A cyclist was supposed to lead (the runners), but he got lost. So, everyone just kind of followed Carlan."
Max Siverson was 20th (16:41) and Cluff 41st (18:18).
The Lady Horns
Alchesay transfer, Rhea Cosay, led the Lady Horns to a second place team finish by speeding to a runner-up effort in 21:33.
Trailing her for PHS were Lana Cluff (eighth; 22:48), Lucy Schouten (15th; 24:27), Esther Linkey (16th; 24:33) and Marquel Waterman (31st; 30:04) -- 41 runners competed in the invitational.
All six of the Lady Horns will represent PHS in the East championships.
Hardt anticipates the Alchesay Falcons will enter the postseason as the region championship favorite.
If the PHS teams finish among the top four in the region showdown, they will receive an automatic berth into the state championships to be held Nov. 4 at Cave Creek Golf Course.
Hardt predicts the teams to beat for the state crown will probably be the Northern Arizona Reservation schools.
Traditionally, those 3A North region teams with Navajo and Hopi runners are among the best in the state regardless of school size classification.