Coach Jonathan Ball is singing the praises of his two Payson High cross country teams. And it’s for good reasons — both the boys and girls teams ran their way to gold-medal finishes in the Fountain Hills Falcon Invitational contested Sept. 11 in the searing Valley heat.
“This is the first time in a long time that both teams swept an invitational,” Ball said. “Our girls got out very strong and were able to keep it up.
“They packed together very nicely for the first half of the race.”
For the Lady Horns, seven of the runners medaled by finishing among the top 15.
Freshman Logen Conway led the PHS contingent, finishing third overall in 24:31. Ashley Spear turned in a clocking of 25:10 to take sixth.
Madi Flake was eighth in 25:57 and Sara Cluff ran to 10th in 26:21. Also earning medals were Lauren Nossek (12th; 26:34), Jacquelyn Oesterblad (13th; 27:02) and Katie Schouten (14th; 27:04).
Following the win, Ball lauded the Lady Horns saying, “I was very happy with the girls team. This is the second year they have won this invitational.”
The boys followed up their female counterparts’ victory with a “W” of their own, mostly because seven PHS runners finished among the invitational’s top 20 individuals.
Ezra White, who Ball calls a “very solid front runner,” finished first overall, defeating the runner-up by about 40 seconds.
“Ezra settled in the lead pack for about two miles and with a little over a mile left, made a strong move (to win),” Ball said. “It was a great victory for Ezra and even sweeter as he led his team to victory.”
The coach calls the Payson runners who pushed White “a great pack behind him.”
They include Dawson Beeson (fifth), Tanner Hodges (seventh), Niyal Curi (eighth) and Trent Hodges (12th).
Beeson and Curi are freshmen.
Also for Payson, Jamie Wadington was 17th and Daniel Conley took 20th.
“The boys race was very exciting,” said Ball. “Over the past few years, the boys have been a work in progress.
“They are now getting to the point where they can compete with a lot of teams.”
At Payson Golf Course
Only two days before the cross country teams traveled to Fountain Hills for the invitational, PHS hosted a 15-team meet that drew almost 300 runners to Payson Golf Course.
For the Longhorns, White led the charge, finishing a very respectable 10th place among 160 runners in 18:47.
The race winner, Garner Grennier of Flagstaff, was clocked in 17:21.70.
About White, Ball said, “He went out hard and set the tone early. He was able to keep it going for the most part.”
The team, Ball added, “Ran a great race. Our second through sixth (place) runners were all within 22 seconds of each other.”
They included Hodges (52nd; 20:35.30), Conley (57th; 20:48.80), Curi (59th; 20:55.20), Beeson (61st; 20:56), and Wadington (20:58.90).
Following the meet, Ball praised the boys saying, “Our team has really progressed and I am very excited about the season.”
As a team, the PHS boys were seventh in the 14-team field with 216 points.
Flagstaff ran away with the team title, posting a meet-low 31 points
In the girls field, the Lady Longhorns were eighth overall with 185 points.
Once again, powerful Flagstaff was first, carding 45 points.
Individually, Oesterblad turned in Payson’s best effort, taking 35th in 23:57.10. Just a few steps off her pace was Ashley Spear (36th; 23:58.8).
Also in the very formidable 115-runner field, Madi Flake was 55th, Cluff took 57th, Conway was 59th and Nossek ran to 70th.
“I felt our girls had a nice race,” Ball said. “It is very hard to ask athletes to compete three times in one week which is what we did.”
Next up for the two track teams is the Sludge to the Judge homecoming race on Sept 17.
For many years, the Sludge to the Judge was a huge part of homecoming festivities, partly because it precedes the annual parade on Friday afternoon on Main Street.
However, it was not held last year.
“We are excited to bring this tradition back,” Ball said. “This will give our athletes a chance to showcase their hard work in front of the entire town.”
Teams expected to join Payson in the meet include Fountain Hills, Millennium, Phoenix North, Holbrook and Many Farms.