At first glance, Payson’s 15th place state team finish among 17 teams at the 3A Arizona State Cross Country Championships doesn’t seem to be much of an accomplishment.
But for a Longhorn team that has struggled since the dynamic duo of Carlan Pontious and Carlos Lopez wrapped up their prep careers in 2006, the Longhorns showing Nov. 7 near Cave Creek Golf Course is a feather in their cap.
That’s because the Horns failed to earn state qualifying berths the past two seasons and in most meets during those two highly forgettable campaigns, PHS failed to earn a team score.
Those disappointments occurred because the team couldn’t field the minimum number of runners.
But enter new coach Jonathan Ball, who this year teamed with veteran coach Chuck Yale to lead the Longhorns out of obscurity.
The 2009 team began to take shape early this fall when the coaches convinced six Payson High students to turn out for their squad.
With those runners in the fold, the Longhorns could finally be eligible for a team score.
As the season wore on, the individuals improved enough to finish third at the East Region championships and earn the much-coveted team berth into the state finals.
The Horn resurgence at state was led by junior Forrest Wadington who ran to 54th place in the 125-runner field. He was clocked in a team high 19:33.93.
Tuba City’s speedy Billy Orman ran away with the individual title in 15:47.35.
Trailing Wadington for Payson were Michael Scott (77th; 20:34.51), Tanner Hodges (79th; 20:38.56), Arman Sharma (87th; 21:01.18), Jamie Wadington (92nd; 21:31.33) and Zeke Brooks (114th; 27:19.75).
From that crew only Sharma and Brooks are seniors, which gives Ball, Yale and PHS fans hope for a promising future.
As expected, the state meet was dominated by the Northern Arizona reservation teams of the North Region where long distance running is not a sport but a way of life.
With 42 points Tuba City was first. Chinle scored 55 points to take second and Ganado was third with 123 points.
Window Rock posted 171 points and was sixth. All four teams are members of the 3A conference’s North Region.