The Payson High School cross country teams wrap up a frenzied 2012 regular season tomorrow, Oct. 20, in Fountain Hills with their sights set on fine tuning their performances in time for the all-important Division III, Section I finals.
The sectional meet will be held Oct. 26 at Holbrook Golf Course where runners will have the opportunity to earn berths, either as individual runners or as a team, into the D-III state championships, to be held Nov. 3 at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix.
There, the finest runners from around the state will gather to battle for bragging rights, school pride, gold medals and possibly college scholarships.
But before the PHS runners can allow visions of state victories to begin dancing in their noggins, they must focus on doing well in Fountain Hills.
There, they will face some of the same opponents they will square off against in the state finals. Victories by PHS runners would not only be a morale booster, but also a muscle-flexing show of superiority.
As for sectionals, coach Jonathan Ball is predicting, “the girls have an excellent shot at qualifying for state.
“We have a very competitive section, but we have the ability to do it (advance to state).”
The last time the PHS team members competed, Oct. 13 at the Thunderbird Invitational at Mesa Community College, the Lady Horns were at the top of their game, winning the meet title by edging runner-up Desert Ridge, 20-37.
“It was a great team effort on the girls’ side,” said Ball.
The boys, however, fielded only one runner — Dawson Beeson — therefore did not receive a team score.
Although Beeson was the lone PHS team member, he came though with a Herculean effort, finishing second overall in 18:05.8 over the 5K (3.1-mile) course.
Brendon Norwood-Peterson of Phoenix St. Mary’s was first in a very swift 16:35.2
Beeson’s effort impressed Ball, “Dawson had himself the best race of his career.
“His times keep going down this season.”
The coach was also doing handsprings watching a relatively unknown small-town runner outduel opponents from a Division I metropolitan school.
“It was nice to see him hang in there with some of the solid runners from Desert Ridge and run away from them at the end,” Ball said.
The coach anticipates Beeson’s performance at FH could mean he has a chance to earn an individual qualifying berth to state during the running of the Section I finals, “He has an outside shot.”
The Horns will not qualify for state as a team because they do not have the required five team members on the roster.
Among the Lady Horns at Mesa College, sophomore Erin Huffman took second place in 21:24.8 about 30 seconds behind St. Mary’s senior Guadalupe Navares.
Abby Greenleaf, only a freshman, fought off inexperience to finish third overall in 21:53.8.
Payson’s youth movement continued when sophomore McKyla McCrary took fourth overall in 22:36.4.
Trailing Payson’s top three were a trio of freshman runners — McKenzie Mann (7th; 23:40.8), Anna Schouten (9th; 24:24.4) and Storm Alexander (11th; 25:16.6).
Due to the team’s youth, the group could be known in some circles as a kiddies’ corps. But if the six continue to improve over the next few years, the PHS lobby could become the home of a state championship cross-country trophy.
For Ball, the key to doing well at FH, in the postseason and on to next season is for the girls to run within themselves and strategize.
At Mesa, he said, the girls seemed very comfortable and did not get “sucked into starting out too fast.”
He predicts, “When we learn to run like that in a big race, we will be a very tough team.”