Lady Longhorn cross country coach Jonathan Ball can call upon what he calls “veteran leadership” to buoy the team as it negotiates a rugged 2011 schedule that includes meets against Valley area “big schools” and northern Arizona reservation teams where running is a way of life.
Senior Sarah Cluff and junior Ashley Spear are the two seasoned runners he’s referring to because both are entering their third year of cross country.
“Ashley has been our top runner through two time trials and has been very consistent throughout her cross country career here at PHS,” said Ball.
Cluff is a veteran of track and field as well as cross country, excelling in the 800 meters.
Last spring, at the Safford Booster Club Invitational, she turned in a third-place finish in the event with a time of 2:41.62.
In addition to Cluff and Spear supplying leadership, Ball is counting on several others to contribute team points including Adriana Barnes, Logen Conway, Erin Huffman and McKyla McCrary.
Barnes returns to the team for her senior campaign after sitting out the past two years.
As a freshman, she was an all-region runner, prompting Ball to suspect she can exceed that accomplishment now that she’s a bit older and wiser.
“She is very excited to be on the team this year,” said Ball.
Much has been expected of Conway since she burst onto the cross country and track and field season last year as a talented freshman.
“Logen looks like she can make some major improvements from her frosh season as she had a very consistent track season,” Ball said. “With some dedication to practice, she can elevate herself to being one of the better runners in our section.”
Huffman and McCrary are untested freshmen, but the coach is expecting both to have an immediate impact on the team.
“Erin is a very tough runner who is not afraid of the pain running can bring,” Ball said. “McKyla has also been impressive in practices up to this point.”
Also being counted on to contribute this fall is third-year runner Katie Schouten, “She is hungry to make improvements.”
Hanna Sauer and Sarah Schneider, a pair of newcomers who are also exchange students, round out the cross-country roster.
“Neither has extensive running experience, but both have been making daily improvements,” Ball said.
As for the 2011 season, the coach points to the Desert Twilight Festival on Sept. 30 at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa as a highlight. The festival will feature two collegiate races and the Community 5K, which is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. The festival begins at 4:30 p.m. with the High School Boys Freshman Small School race and concludes at 8:45 p.m. with the running of the High School Boys Sweepstakes race. An awards ceremony will be held following the final race.
Also, the team will travel Oct. 21 to Walnut, Calif. for the Mt. Sac Invitational and will compete Nov. 19 at the Nike Southwest Championships at Toka Sticks.