Erin Huffman’s goal was to improve on her time of 22 minutes, 41 seconds from a year ago in Wednesday’s season-opening Payson Invitational.
Her effort in last year’s cross country meet earned her ninth place.
She was better this time.
The junior ran the 5-kilometer race at Payson Golf Club in 21:19.70 to win for the first time in her varsity career. She finished 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Valentina Nyhart of Flagstaff Northland Prep, who crossed in 21:36.10.
Huffman was in ninth place in the first of two laps. She made her push for the lead early in the second lap, passing Nyhart and Northland Prep’s Corrin Kalinich, who was third in 21:59.50, and pulled away.
“We came back around and on the back stretch, like the last mile and a half, I took her and I just kept going,” Huffman said of Nyhart.
She was encouraged by the presence of her mother, Joanna Carroll.
“My mom was there and she’s an inspiration to me,” Huffman said. “So she was just there and it gave me all the motivation I needed to go.”
Huffman was also inspired over the summer to put in the work necessary to improve and earn a college athletic scholarship.
“My motivation this year is to be stronger than ever because I want to get a full-ride scholarship to college,” she said. “I want to run at Adams State in Alamosa,
Colo. So I really wanted to buckle down and just do everything I possibly can to get that.”
Payson coach Jonathan Ball said Huffman’s experience paid off in the race.
“Erin had a great race today,” he said. “She’s come so far from last year. Last year, she led the first 800 meters, but then she ran kind of backwards.
“This year, she learned from that mistake and then she knew, ‘OK, I’ve gotta lead right there. There’s where my name gets published in the paper.’
“She ran great. She was fourth or fifth, followed them, was patient, then kicked when she needed to. (She jumped out early last year) then she fizzled out.
“It was nice to see her run controlled then go. She’s really worked hard. She’s put in a lot of effort.”
Behind Nyhart and Kalinich, Northland Prep won the girls championship with 47 points. Cottonwood Mingus was second with 50, followed by Goodyear Millennium (103) and Payson (108). Rounding out the eight-team standings were Chino Valley (139), Thatcher (149), Sedona Red Rock (154) and Apache Junction (183).
There were 92 finishers in the girls race.
Behind Huffman for Payson was sophomore Mackenzie Mann (17th in 24:42.90), sophomore Abigail Greanleaf (27th in 25:40.90), sophomore Anna Schouten (36th in 26:57.30), junior Maizy Hall (52nd in 28:31.10), sophomore Kara Van Zile (53rd in 28:37.20), sophomore Storm Alexander (59th in 29:17.20), sophomore Chloe Obrecht (60th in 29:27.10), senior Kayla Brown (73rd in 32:04.00) and junior Kiki York (78th in 34:55.40).
The roster also features freshman Lindsey Wala.
Ball said Payson’s girls team has potential this season.
“We’re going to be pretty good this year,” the coach said. “We’re going to benefit from moving from the tough north section to the central section. So we don’t have to run in Holbrook and Chinle and against all those guys. I really foresee us qualifying for state as a team. I think that’s a very good possibility. Overall we’re pretty strong. I really think there’s a lot of potential there. We’re a fit team. So that’s a good thing.”
Millennium’s Ryan Wolff edged Northland Prep’s Jonathon Hall by one-tenth of a second to win the boys race. Wolff crossed in 18:06.00 and Hall in 18:06.10.
Mingus won the boys title with 73 points. Millennium was second with 90 and Chino Valley (93) third among the 10 complete teams. Payson entered only three runners.
Junior Ryland Wala finished 21st in 20:38.10 to lead Payson. Also for the Longhorns, senior Kevin Sandell (24:40.20) was 80th and sophomore Kevin Price (26:30.00) 91st. There were 124 finishers in the boys race.
The Horns are expected to field a full team soon. “We do have more boys,” Ball said. “We just had to hold some out today. We’ll have eight or nine by the end of the season, hopefully by next week.”
The coach said Wala had a great effort.
“I was really impressed with Ryland Wala today,” Ball said. “He got his first top-20 finish in a bigger meet. It’s his third year in the program and it’s the first time he’s medaled in the Payson Invitational. I think he was 38th last year. To see him just keep progressing, that’s exciting to watch.”
Sandell is back on the team after taking last year off. “I’m glad he’s back,” Ball said. “He’s running into shape.”
The coach said Price just needs experience. “He’s a novice runner and I was real proud of Kevin,” Ball said. “This is his first experience of any kind in competition like this and it was pretty cool to see him hang in.”
The roster is also expected to include senior Dawson Beeson, junior Cody May and sophomores Alonzo Cohen, Steven Jones and Octavio Valenzuela. Sophomore Connor Prestwich is a transfer from Snowflake who could be eligible soon.
Girls team standings: 1. Flagstaff Northland Prep 47 points; 2. Cottonwood Mingus 50; 3. Goodyear Millennium 103; 4. Payson 108; 5. Chino Valley 139; 6. Thatcher 149; 7. Sedona Red Rock 154; 8. Apache Junction 183.
Top individual girls: 1. Erin Huffman, Payson, 21:19.70; 2. Valentina Nyhart, Northland Prep, 21:36.10; 3. Corrin Kalinich, Northland Prep, 21:59.50; 4. Justine Taylor, Mingus, 22:31.40; 5. Sammie Cox, Sedona, 22:50.20; 6. Anissa Urueta, Mingus, 23:11.10; 7. Julia Wagenfehr, Blue Ridge, 23:19.70; 8. Elyssa Bell, Millennium, 23:25.50; 9. Gabriella Apolinar, Millennium, 23:29.20; 10. Sienna Gehl, Mingus, 23:49.30. 11. Cheyanne Penton, Chino Valley, 24:05.20; 12. Kelli Balensky, Mingus, 24:18.90; 13. Jasmin Mueller-Hsia, Northland Prep, 24:18.90; 14. Petra Gee, Northland Prep, 24:25.20; 15. Natalie Cox, Sedona, 24:30.00; 16. Allyssa Willis, Apache Junction, 24:40.70; 17. Mackenzie Mann, Payson, 24:42.90; 18. Chelsea Ulibarrie, Northland Prep, 25:10.10; 19. Kassie Irwin, Northland Prep, 25:10.70; 20. Gabriella Evans, Northland Prep, 25:16.40. 21. Regan Gee, Northland Prep, 25:24.80; 22. Maddie Brewer, Show Low, 25:26.50; 23. Cassia Gehl, Mingus, 25:29.10; 24. Maribel Cruz, Mingus, 25:30.80; 25. Sara Clifford, Thatcher, 25:37.40.
Boys team standings: 1. Cottonwood Mingus 73 points; 2. Goodyear Millennium 90; 3. Chino Valley 93; 4. Chandler Valley Christian 103; 5. Sedona Red Rock 110; 6. Thatcher 136; 7. Flagstaff Northland Prep 145; 8. Blue Ridge 214; 9. Apache Junction 222; 10. Show Low 239; Payson did not field a full team.
Top individual boys: 1. Ryan Wolff, Millennium, 18:06.00; 2. Jonathon Hall, Northland Prep, 18:06.10; 3. McKenzie Nez, Chino Valley, 18:49.60; 4. Mateos DeSpain, Thatcher, 18:57.70; 5. Kevin Sanchez, Sedona Red Rock, 19:05.70; 6. Travis Oakey, Sedona Red Rock, 19:12.50; 7. Steven Taradash, Valley Christian, 19:24.60; 8. Gustavo Banks, Mingus, 19:33.00; 9. Chris D’Angelo, Mingus, 19:37.00; 10. Malik Thomas, Millennium, 19:39.60; 11. Doug Martel, Blue Ridge, 19:55.20; 12. Andy Freitag, Chino Valley, 20:05.60; 13. Tim Rudiger, Chino Valley, 20:07.20; 14. Cooper Fielder, Valley Christian, 20:10.40; 15. Blaine Holmberg, Millennium, 20:12.50; 16. Jordan Bramblett, Mingus, 20:13.80; 17. Kenny Harold, Blue Ridge, 20:20.70; 18. Noah Cefola, Valley Christian, 20:25.60; 19. Joseph Sandoval, Mingus, 20:36.00; 20. Nathan McMaster, Thatcher, 20:37.00; 21. Ryland Wala, Payson, 20:38.10; 22. Joseph Cook, Mingus, 20:40.60; 23. Connor Palmer, Thatcher, 20:43.70; 24. Traygon Ullery, Mingus, 21:00.00; 25. Jamie Zimmerman, Apache Junction, 21:03.80.