With 72 teams competing, including both Payson High teams, the Queen Creek Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival at the Toka Sticks Golf Course in Gilbert is one of the most popular mid-season meets in the state.
Rendering it even more trendy is that this year the ASU invitational was run in conjunction, which meant the festival featured 17 races — 14 high school, two collegiate and one community event that was open to all.
“This is our big meet of the year, the one that is the most fun,” said coach Jonathan Ball as he and athletes boarded a bus Oct. 1 to leave Payson for Gilbert.
The coach pointed to the time of day the meet is run, almost nighttime, as a real draw for the festival.
Runners navigated a course lined with lights, which rarely occurs in prep cross-country.
The sheer size of the festival field also meant both the boys and girls teams faced some of Arizona’s stiffest competition, even though both were aligned in the “small school varsity” division.
The Lady Horns finished with 212 points and in eighth place among 22 teams.
The boys took ninth in a 24-team field.
Sludge to the Judge winner Ezra White paced the Longhorns finishing 13th among 155 runners. He was clocked in 17:36 over the about 5K course.
Tanner Hodges was second for Payson, 38th overall, in 18:22. With a 58th place finish in 18:56, Dawson Beeson was third among PHS runners.
Trailing were Trent Hodges (61st; 18:59), Jamie Wadington (81st; 19:21), Niyai Curi (95th; 19:57) and Daniel Conley (100th; 20:11).
For the Lady Horns in the 152-runner field, Jacquelyn Oesterblad was first for the team, 26th overall, with 22:28.
Ashley Spear was second among the PHS runners, 47th overall, in 23:16.
Others representing Payson included Madi Flake (49th; 23:22), Sarah Cluff (55th; 23:37), Lauren Nossek (80th; 24:36) and Katie Schouten (116th; 26:59).
Next up for the runners is the Show Low Invitational on Oct. 13 at SLHS.
The teams wrap up the regular season Oct. 22 at the Holbrook Invitational.