Lady Longhorn cross country runners continued to improve both as individuals and as a team finishing third at the Blue Ridge Invitational and garnering the gold at the Snowflake Lobo Invitational.
On Sept. 26 in Lakeside Blue Ridge, Jacquelyn Oesterblad led the Lady Horn charge to the bronze medal, finishing 15th overall in 23:04.
Just three days earlier at Snowflake, Oesterblad turned in a 5K clocking of 22:01 to take third and lead PHS to the girls’ title.
First-year coach Johnathan Ball touts winning the invitational a huge accomplishment for the team and a rare treat for senior Lucy Schouten.
“She is the only athlete who has run for four years on our team, and during that span, she had never been a part of a team that won an invitational,” he said.
“What these girls are accomplishing is fantastic.”
In both meets, the entire varsity roster turned in superb “pack running” efforts, which is a huge boost for the team effort because it awards opponents, excess points while holding down their own.
“They have really bought into the team concept of cross country and it is paying off big time,” Ball said.
Trailing Oesterblad at Blue Ridge were Ashley Spear (17th; 23:23), Madi Flake (23rd; 23:43) and Iris Molina (24th; 23:56).
At Snowflake, Schouten was fourth, just five seconds off the pace of Oesterblad.
Spear took eighth in 22:24 and Flake, only a freshman, ran to a 12th-place showing in 23:05.
Also for Payson, Elizabeth Luna took 13th (23:14) and Molina was 14th (23:16).
“I am impressed with how this team responds to pressure and how they step up and don’t want to let each other down,” Ball said. “The girls keep progressing and with the way they have prepared, they still have their best running ahead of them.”
The coach also lauded Spear’s finish at Snowflake saying, “Ashley had her best race of the season; there was a point in the race where (the outcome) was up in the air with a lot of runners from different schools running together and Ashley pulled away from that group and broke it up.”
Spear’s feat prompted the girls from the other schools to give up their pack running which allowed Payson runners to slip in front of them.
The Lady Horns’ two invitational wins this season, at Fountain Hills and Snowflake, have stamped the team among the top five in the 3A ranks.
In junior varsity action at Blue Ridge, Payson was represented by Emily Hill (seventh; 26:34), Katie Schouten (ninth; 27:11) and Nisha Edwin (27th; 31:31). Junior varsity runners competing in the open division at Snowflake were Katie Schouten (first; 24:11), Hill (second; 24:33), Lauren Nossek (third; 25:04) and Edwin (13th; 27; 46). Nossek just returned to the team after being sidelined for several meets with an injury.
The Lady Horns will travel to Whiteriver for the Alchesay Invitational Oct. 9.