The best thing that's happened to the Longhorn cross country team might be Payson High's move out of the 4A Grand Canyon region into the 3A East.
If PHS were still a member of the GCR -- as the school was from 2002 to 2004 -- the Longhorns would be aligned in the same region as the powerful Mingus Marauders.
That could mean the Horns would have little hope of making a run at a state title -- Mingus is simply too deep and too powerful to be overcome.
A hint of just how good the Mingus team is surfaced Sept. 6 at the season-opening Payson Golf Course run.
The Longhorns entered the meet with three veteran runners who last season proved they were among the state's best.
But Mingus surprised many by placing five runners in the top seven and easily winning the clash with a meet-low 20 points.
With 65, Payson was second. Coconino posted 70 to take third and Sinagua finished as the cellar-dweller with 79.
Individually, Marauder Tim Frericks won the meet championship covering the about 3-mile course in 17:04.
The mark shattered the meet record of 17:25 set in 2001 by Eric Dahl of Scottsdale Christian.
Frericks' efforts drew praise from longtime PHS coach Chuck Hardt who predicted, "He could win the 4A (individual) state championship; he is that good."
Frericks' talents have also drawn the attention of Arizona State University recruiters who have offered him a scholarship.
Although Frericks wasn't pushed at any point during the Payson Golf Course run, Longhorn Carlan Pontious was closest to the leader finishing second in 17:29.
Mingus captured third-, fourth- and fifth-place honors.
Payson's Carlos Lopez avoided a Mingus third- through sixth-place sweep when he edged Marauder Willie Cutbirth for sixth.
Lopez was clocked in 17:59 and Cutbirth in 18:01.
Rounding out the Longhorns top five scorers were Bryson Addington (ninth; 18:52), Max Sieverson (22nd; 20:35) and Joe Schloessler (26th; 21:55).
Also representing the Longhorns, but not scored in the top-five varsity tally were Isaac Cluff (27th; 22:23) and Elden Siverson (29th; 23:42).
Jesus Hipolitio (25:08), Noah Sweet (26:18) and Matt Jones (28:25) also competed.
A field of 43 runners entered.
Another measure of just how good the Marauders were on the day can be found in Daniel James' 10th place showing in 16:85.
Although he was in the top-10 overall, he was sixth among the Mingus runners and not included on the varsity score.
Had James been on the Sinagua team, he would have been the Mustangs' fastest runner. On Coconino's team he would have been second fastest and on Payson, fourth.
Payson could have the opportunity to lock horns with the Marauders once again at the Four Corners Invitational to be held Sept. 16 at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff.
The meet is also expected to draw some of the finest northern Arizona reservation teams that annually contend for the 3A state championship.