Payson High School cross-country runners are gearing up this week for the highlight of the home season -- the Sludge to the Judge homecoming run.
The event begins about 1:30 p.m. at the Gila County Sanitary Plant, travels down Main Street and ends near Justice of the Peace Dorothy Little's office on the corner of Main and Beeline.
Immediately after the run, the homecoming parade will be held on Main.
The Sludge to the Judge has long been a huge part of homecoming festivities, which are ongoing this week at Payson High School.
In most years, both Longhorns teams have been in the running for top honors. This season, however, the team is struggling mostly because the veteran, seasoned runners that buoyed the Horns in the past have graduated.
In that scenario, some prep teams simply reload, but the PHS cross-country teams find themselves in a rebuilding mode.
With an untested crew of athletes, the Longhorns are not expected to make much noise this year.
However, in preparing for the Sludge to the Judge, both the boys and girls cross-country teams traveled Sept. 22 to Lakeside, where they competed in the Blue Ridge Invitational.
The boys did not enter a varsity team but rather participated in the junior varsity competition, mostly because all the team members are underclassmen and new to the sport.
David Knauer led the Horn JV charge, finishing ninth in 21:11. Trailing were Jemmy Behrens (17th; 22:24), Forrest Wadington (20th; 22:47), Matt Phillips (26th; 24:04).
In the girls varsity competition, Lana Cluff was 18th overall in 22:53 and Lucy Schouten 28th in 23:34.
In the girls' junior varsity event, Jacquelyn Osterbald (22nd; 27:41), Rachel Ward (34th; 32:16), Keisha Waterman (38th; 33:38) and newcomer Megan Evans (42nd; 39:02) represented Payson.
In addition to the visit to Lakeside, the cross-country teams traveled Sept. 19 to Snowflake for the Lobo Invitational.
There, the Lady Horns were fifth in the six-team field.
Hopi was first, Alchesay second, Valley third and Holbrook fourth.
Payson's best showing was turned in by Cluff, who was ninth over the about-5K course in 22:47.
Deann Honanie of Hopi ran to the gold medal, with a clocking of 20:14.
Payson's Lucy Schouten was 13th in the 48-runner field in 23:14.
The Lady Horns did not have another runner cross the finish line until Osterbald, in 27:35. She was 31st.
Nicole Scott took 37th in 30:17 and Waterman was 39th in 25:26.
In the eight-team boys varsity competition, Payson finished a distant eighth, with 202 points. By tallying just 25 points, Hopi claimed first.
Individually, Payson struggled with only Knauer able to make much of a mark. He finished 33rd in the 49-runner field in 21:18.
Run champion, Cody Wells of Snowflake, was clocked in a speedy 16:48.
With the win, Wells becomes the favorite to win the East region cross-country individual title.
Payson's Behrens was 36 in 21:18.