Jonathan Ball, Payson High School cross country coach, has high hopes for this year.
“Our girls team is strong,” said Ball, “Three years ago we won the regional championships — this year we could do better.”
With the team’s top five girls — Erin Hussman, Abby Greenleaf, McKalya McCrary, McKinzie Mann and Storm Alexander — Ball believes the Longhorns could win the state championship.
However, Ball expressed regret that for the second year, the boys team is shy one runner to make a full team.
“Most guys go on the soccer team instead of cross country,” said Ball. “A lot of kids used to use cross country for conditioning, but when you need $200 to do running, they decide to do conditioning on their own.”
Ball hopes to add a couple of boys if they finish their physicals and pay the sports fees.
Currently the four boys on the team are Dawson Beeson, Niles Curi, Ryland Wala and Alanzo Cohen.
Ball said the team has the same meet schedule as last year, which will affect the traditional Sludge to the Judge race.
In the past, the race was part of Payson High School’s Homecoming celebration, but because of schedule changes, it will not be possible to hold the race.
“Used to be we ran the race along with the Homecoming Parade,” he said. “But the parade is now scheduled for the morning.”
The short length of the race, two miles, makes it less than an attractive contest. Competitive cross country races are three miles long. For neighboring teams to participate in the Sludge to the Judge, the race does not help with training or application to standings because the course is too short, said Ball.
On top of all that, the Holbrook Invitational, a critical race to statewide standings, happens the next weekend. Ball said Holbrook allows schools to come and check out the course to prepare their teams for the important race the weekend the Sludge to the Judge race occurs.
“Coaches want to see the Holbrook course,” said Ball.
An exciting meet Ball and the team look forward to this season is the Twilight Meet Sept. 28 at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa.
“Four to five thousand athletes compete from 130 teams,” he said, “Afterwards there are fireworks.”