The Four Corners Invitational, to be held Sept. 19 in Flagstaff, will offer the Lady Longhorns some of the toughest competition they will meet this year.
The competition could possibly be even better than the 3A state championship clashes.
The robust competition of the Flagstaff-based meet is partly due to the talent it attracts.
Runners representing the perennially tough reservation schools, including talent-laden Chinle and its sophomore superstar Roland Jumbo, are expected to participate, as will many of the top teams from the “big school” 4A and 5A ranks.
Jumbo has proven to be one of the finest runners in the state, regardless of school size classification.
After leading the Wildcats to last year’s state championship, she began this season by winning the Peaks and the Hopi Invitationals, leading both races from start to finish.
Also making the Four Corners meet demanding on the athletes is the fact that the Buffalo Park course is over a narrow 5K dirt trail, with hordes of runners battling for position.
“That is the first meet I’ve ever seen where they line up the runners single file at the start line,” said PHS assistant coach Chuck Yale.
The Lady Horns tuned up for the Four Corners meet with early season clashes at the Padre Invitational in Tempe, Payson multi-meet and at the Fountain Hills Invitational.
The meet at Fountain Hills represented a last-minute schedule change.
Originally on Sept. 12, the Lady Horns were to travel to the Ray Wherly Invitational in Prescott, but Yale and head coach Jonathan Ball decided instead to travel to Fountain Hills.
“We wanted to get a look at some of the 3A teams,” Yale said.
Competing against schools the same size classification, the Payson girls did well, picking up their first meet victory of the season.
Jacquelyn Oesterblad led the team effort, finishing fifth overall. Elizabeth Luna was sixth, Iris Molina eighth, Lucy Schouten ninth, Maddie Flake 10th and Ashley Spear 14th.
“We had good pack running,” said Yale.
Lauren Nossek, normally one of the Lady Horns’ top-five runners, was held out of the meet due to an injury.
At the Padre Invitational, which drew some of the 4A and 5A ranks’ finest teams, Schouten finished 38th in the 100-plus runner field.
Trailing were Luna (44th), Oesterblad (54th), Nossek (61st) and Molina (62nd).
At the Payson multi-meet held Sept. 9 at Payson Golf Course, Schouten ran to a 15th-place finish, Nossek was 23rd, Flake 24th, Luna 25th, Molina 27th, Spear 30th and Emily Hill 37th.
As a team, the Lady Horns compiled 106 points to finish fourth behind champion Sedona Red Rock, runner-up Northland Prep and bronze medalist Mingus.
Sedona’s showing at the meet has Yale predicting the Scorpions could be a state title contender.
“They are good,” he said.
Although the Four Corners clash is a blockbuster meet, the highlight of the season for Payson will be a first-ever trip to the Rio Rancho Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M.
For it, Ball will be returning to his coaching roots. Prior to moving to Payson more than a year ago to teach and coach at PHS, he coached at an Albuquerque area high school.
To fund the trip, the Friends And Neighbors (FAN) club and team hosted a benefit pancake breakfast last week.