Payson High hasn’t had a team qualify for the cross country state meet since 2009.
Make that hadn’t.
The Longhorn girls finished fourth among 13 teams in the Division III Section III meet at Skunk Creek Landfill in Phoenix on Nov. 1 to qualify for Saturday’s Division III state meet.
“We saved our best team performance for our most important race of the season and the team is being rewarded by earning a trip to the state meet for the first time since 2009,” said an excited Payson coach Jonathan Ball.
Behind champion Sierra Jarriel, who crossed in 20:17.44 to beat runner-up Briana Alverez of Goodyear Estrella Foothills by 35 seconds, Fountain Hills beat Tempe by seven points for the team championship. The Falcons produced three of the top 10 finishers and five of the top 25 in scoring 55 points. Tempe had three of the first 11 finishers in score 62 points. Cactus also had 62 points, but Tempe won the tiebreaker to finish second based on the sixth-runner place. Tempe’s six runner finished 21st and Cactus’ was 33rd.
Three Longhorns finished among the top 25 in scoring 125 points. Estrella Foothills (135), Chandler Seton Catholic (199) and Apache Junction (200) were the other qualifying teams.
Abby Greenleaf placed eighth in 22:15.10 to lead Payson, which had failed to qualify for the state meet the past three seasons. Mackenzie Mann was 17th in 23:05.39, and Anna Schouten (24:01.89) crossed 24th. All would have qualified for the state meet, which is at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix, if the Longhorns hadn’t made it as a team.
Also for PHS, Storm Alexander (25:26.58) was 37th and Maizy Hall (25:42.95) placed 39th and Kara Van Zile was 45th in 26:2424. Kiki York was 76th in 31:13.00 but her score wasn’t used in the team total.
Payson had routinely qualified for the Class 3A state meet through 2009, when the Longhorns won the 3A East Regional. That was the year before the Arizona Interscholastic Association switched from classes and regions to divisions and sections. Payson’s boys team also qualified for the 3A state meet in 2009.
But qualifying became much more difficult beginning in 2010.
“There were about 28 schools under the old 3A,” Ball said. “Division III has 49 schools that participate in cross country and the majority of those schools are much bigger than Payson High School. We also went from six 3A East schools to 17 Division III Section III schools, 10 of which have an enrollment of more than 1,000 students and as high as 1,600 students.
“So, we have been fighting a battle since things moved over in 2010 just to qualify.”
Greenleaf led the way for the Longhorns, becoming the first Payson athlete ever to medal in a sectional.
“She had a great meet at the Twilight Invitational, taking eighth,” Ball said. “And then she worked really hard over fall break to make improvements. She then led us at the Hopi meet and at Mt. SAC in California.
“All her efforts and hard work paid off nicely at the sectional meet, and it was nice to see her recognized with a medal and all-section honors. She has overcome surgery this summer and still has made vast improvements in her running this season.”
Mann continued her solid fall with another strong finish.
“Mackenzie has been quietly having a great season,” Ball said. “It started off with her first-ever cross country medal at our home meet and she has received several medals since. Kenz has been one of our most consistent runners all season. She was only three places away from all-section honors and a medal.”
Ball said a real team effort sent the Longhorns to the final race.
“We were really solid in our first two and had some incredible performances by our third, fourth, fifth and sixth runners to get to state,” the coach said.
“Anna Schouten, Storm Alexander, Maizy Hall and Kara Van Zile were all equally important in our team qualifying for the state meet. We discussed before the meet where these four stacked up in our section. According to a performance list, Anna was 38th, Storm was 51st, Maizy was 52nd and Kara 58th.
“We discussed that these were their magic numbers and that if they finished ahead of or at their magic number they would qualify as a team. While the race was in progress, coach (Mandy) Greenleaf and I kept counting where they were. All four of them finished well in front of their magic numbers. All four of them had the best races of their season. Even though times were slow, that had a lot to do with the course. Their performances stood above any other performance this season.”
Schouten improved 14 places on the pre-race performance list.
“Anna took matters into her own hands and ended up hitting the individual qualifying mark and finishing 24th,” Ball said. “She ran more aggressive than I have ever seen her run before, and it was game changing as three of her teammates followed suit. Anna, Storm, Maizy and Kara all beat their magic number by more than 10 places. All six of these girls were essentially in the top half of the (field).
“Kiki also ran for us finishing in 76th. That was the first varsity race of her two-year career.”
Payson placed last among 15 full teams in the boys race. Ryland Wala finished 41st in 20:39.75 to lead the Longhorns.
Also for PHS, Alonzo Cohen was 62nd in 21:43.06, Dawson Beeson placed 64th in 21:55.72, Kevin Sandell was 88th in 23:50.71 and Kevin Price was 97th in 25:03.88.
Tempe had five of the top 24 finishers to edge Phoenix Moon Valley 70-75 for the boys team crown. Estrella Foothills (121), Seton Catholic (137), Apache Junction (149), Fountain Hills (151), Shadow Ridge (180) and Cactus (181) also qualified as teams.
Moon Valley’s Jorge Pineda won the individual title in 17:24.36. Apache Junction’s Omar Ewert (17:51.00) was second and Francisco Contreras of Wickenburg (17:56.56) was third.
SECTION III MEET
Team standings: 1. Fountain Hills 55 points, 2. Tempe 62, 3. Cactus 62, 4. Payson 125, 5. Goodyear Estrella Foothills 135, 6. Chandler Seton Catholic 199, 7. Apache Junction 200, 8. Wickenburg 209, 9. Phoenix Moon Valley 247, 10. St. Mary’s Catholic 255, 11. Shadow Ridge 293, 12. Sierra Linda 310, 13. Buckeye 325.
TOP 25 INDIVIDUALS
- Sierra Jarriel, Fountain Hills, 20:17.44; 2. Briana Alverez, Goodyear Estrella Foothills, 20:52.58; 3. Lexi Wilkes, Cactus, 21:17.39; 4. Kenzie Fitzgerald, Cactus, 21:50.16; 5. Allyssa Willis, Apache Junction, 21:55.75; 6. Amy Bello, Tempe, 22:01.43; 7. Erika Yost, Fountain Hills, 22:12.93; 8. Abby Greenleaf, Payson, 22:15.10; 9. Brooke Yost, Fountain Hills, 22:17.17; 10. Lizbeth Lopez, Tempe, 22:20.35; 11. Alexis Blanc, Tempe, 22:27.16; 12. Libby Rath, Cactus, 22:35.00; 13. Hope Brecto, Fountain Hills, 22:36.02; 14. Catherine Whitfield, St. Mary’s Catholic, 22:46.62; 15. Addy King, Cactus, 22:52.00; 16. Victoria Lebario, Tempe, 22:56.11; 17. Mackenzie Mann, Payson, 23:05.39; 18. Sarah Naldo, Chandler Seton Catholic, 23:18.56; 19. Sabrina Robles, Tempe, 23:31.12; 20. Zamarieth Benavides, Wickenburg, 23:38.52; 21. Fatima Islas, Tempe, 23:40.18; 22. Melodie Prevost, Wickenburg, 23:42.06; 23. Daisy Lopez, Tempe, 23:43.44; 24. Anna Schouten, Payson, 24:01.89; 25. Emmie Lawrence, Fountain Hills, 24:05.11.
Payson 6th at Mt. SAC
Payson’s girls cross country team finished sixth among 20 teams in the Division 4 race at the Mt. SAC Invitational held at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. on Oct. 25.
The event features 150 races — 124 races (62 boys and 62 girls) in the high school division, 24 (12 boys and 12 girls) in the elementary division and two (one men’s and one women’s) in the community college division — and is billed as the world’s largest cross country invitational.
Abby Greenleaf led the Longhorns, finishing 21st, followed by Erin Huffman in 28th place and Mackenzie Mann in 40th place.
“It took Abby a long time to get back, but she is finally fully recovered from her bout with tonsillitis and the tonsillectomy over the summer,” PHS coach Jonathan Ball said.
“I really enjoyed watching this race. It was a very difficult course; the hills really took a toll. But we had some teammates really helping each other out to finish strong. You could tell that our athletes were working really hard. They were exhausted by the end of the race.”
The Longhorns visited Magic Mountain the following day. “It was a fun day,” the coach said.
PHS scored 212 points to finish behind five California schools. Cerritos Valley Christian won with 75 points, followed by San Diego Parker, which also scored 75 but lost the sixth-runner tie-breaker (37-41), Albany was third with 81, followed by Chula Vista Eastlake (123) and Bakersfield Garces (175).
Girls 3rd at Invitational
Abby Greenleaf finished fifth, Erin Huffman sixth and Mackenzie Mann 11 to lead Payson’s girls cross country team to a third-place finish at the Hopi Invitational on Oct. 18.
“We ran well,” said Payson coach Jonathan Ball.