Payson High School cross country teams are at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa today, Sept. 30, competing in one of the largest and most prestigious cross country invitationals in Arizona.
It’s the 5th Annual Twilight Festival — a meet that annually attracts the best high school cross country teams from Arizona and around the United States.
In the meet, teams have the option of competing in “small school” and “large school” divisions in freshman, junior varsity and varsity classifications. Also the event offers a Championship Race for top-notch teams not quite powerful enough to compete in the Sweepstake Race, which pits the state’s top 25 teams against one another.
Organizers call it, “The most competitive race of the night.”
The event is also a Nike Pre-southwest Regional meet which means runners can score large points toward a regional championship.
In addition to the prep meet, the festival includes a Community 5K that draws adult runners from around the state.
The competition tips off at 4:30 p.m. with the boys freshman small school race and continues unabated until 9:05 p.m. when the Sweepstakes Race begins.
Most unique about the Invitational is that it is held under the lights on a looping grass course at Toka Sticks.
The lighted venue allows coaches and spectators the opportunity to view the race at numerous locations.
At the conclusion of the evening, medals will be awarded to the top 20 finishers in all the high school races.
PHS coach Jonathan Ball lauds the race as one of the highlights of the high school season because it is competitive, but also fun and unique.
He apparently thinks enough of the festival to this year not host the traditional Sludge to the Judge run that has long been a huge part of the Payson High School homecoming celebration, which is today, Sept. 30.
In scheduling, Ball opted to pass on Sludge to the Judge in favor of the festival.
Last year at the Twilight Festival, the Lady Longhorns were eighth among 22 elite teams, and the boys were ninth in a 24-school field.
White Mountain run
The PHS cross country teams tuned up for today’s festival by competing Sept. 24 at the Blue Ridge High School-hosted Shane Morris Invitational held Sept. 24 at Woodland Park in Pinetop.
There, the Lady Horns finished sixth in the nine-team field with 161 points. With just 50 points, Flagstaff was first and Chinle took second with 56 tallies.
Individually, Ashley Spear turned in the Lady Horns finest showing finishing 27th in a 52-runner field. She was clocked in 23:44.03.
The race winner, Sedona’s Mykala Seresun was timed in a very fast 20:22.13.
McKyla McCrary turned in Payson’s second best effort running to 29th in 23:58.24.
Teammate Sarah Cluff was hot on McCrary’s heels at the finish line crossing in 30th place in 24:05.68.
Logan Conway contributed to the team effort with a 34th place showing in 24:43.09.
Erin Huffman turned in an ET of 26:14.86 to take 41st place.
Only Jamie Wadington, who was 34th among 54 runners, represented Payson in the boys competition. He was clocked in 20:17.41.
Mingus’ Juan Wells was easily first in 17:17.56.
His nearest competition, a Mingus teammate, was second at more than 25 seconds off the winning pace.
Payson could enter just one runner due to injuries, illness and ineligibilities.
The invitational also featured an “open division” that drew 56 girl runners including Payson’s Katie Schouten and Sarah Schnieder. Schouten ran 28:06.21 to take 29th. Schnieder was 48th in 33:19.68.