The Four Corners Invitational has long had a reputation as one of the most competitive cross-country meets on the Arizona prep sports scene.
That lofty status was further solidified Sept. 19 when the prestigious meet was held at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff.
There, 29 boys and 19 girls varsity teams representing some of the finest programs in the state, regardless of school size classification, showed up to battle for bragging rights as the finest in Arizona.
As usual, it was the runners from the Northern Arizona reservation schools who ran away with many of the honors.
In the boys’ competition, Tuba City’s Ryan Yazzie took the gold, covering the 5K course in 5:06.4.
Among the varsity girls, sophomore Roland Jumbo, touted as one of the finest long-distance runners in the country, won easily in 6:06.1. Jumbo’s nearest competition was 13 seconds off her winning pace.
Chinle won the girls’ title with a meet-low 36 points.
Flagstaff was first in the boys’ competition with 71 points, but three reservation schools — Chinle, Tuba City and Ganado — were among the top six. Chinle was second, Tuba City third and Ganado sixth.
The best a very talented Sedona team — one that some are predicting could be in the running for the 3A state title — could do was seventh.
The Payson girls team turned in a very respectable 10th-place finish and the boys were 26th.
That showing also represented an accomplishment in that the Longhorns fielded the five runners needed to qualify for a team score. Last year, the boys team usually came up short of the mandatory number of runners and failed to score. First-year coach Johnathan Ball took over the program reins, vowing to recruit student-athletes to rebuild the program to the regional power it was a few years ago.
By attracting a qualifying number of runners, he’s built the foundation for the future.
In the 139-runner varsity girls field, Lady Longhorn Lucy Schouten — a senior — ran to a 33rd-place finish in 21:38.2. She averaged 6:57.9 per mile.
Junior Jacque Oesterblad was 48th in 22:03.9.
The efforts of the two drew praise from Ball.
“They stepped up big time,” he said. “Lucy ran the fastest 5K she has ever run, Jacquelyn was real close to her fastest time.”
Trailing for Payson were Ashley Spear (79th; 23:18), Iris Molina (83rd; 23:23.3), Maddie Flake (87th; 23:29.0) and Elizabeth Luna (111th; 24:23.0)
Molina is a sophomore and Flake and Spear are freshmen.
“Our young girls got some valuable experience running in a big meet,” Ball said.
The Lady Horns were without the services of Lauren Nossek, who was sidelined with an injury.
“She will be back for races this week,” Ball said.
Sophomore Tanner Hodges, who was 84th among the 187 varsity runners, led the Longhorn charge at Four Corners. He was clocked in 19:03.3.
Michael Scott, only a freshman, was 139th in 20:12.7.
Also representing PHS were Jamie Wadington (144th; 20:24.5), David Michimer (163rd; 21:06.3) and Zeke Brooks (176th; 22:20.4).
Ball said he was excited the boys finished ahead of Show Low in the final standings because, “We have to be one of the top four teams in our region to qualify for state, and beating Show Low shows our boys have a realistic opportunity to qualify.”
Clancy Snider, who was 95th in 22:01.8, represented the boys in the open division. In the girls open division, which drew 134 runners, Emily Hill ran 25:39.5 to take 48th. Freshman Katie Schouten’s time of 27:25.5 was good enough for 78th