Payson’s girls cross country team qualified for the state meet by finishing fourth among eight teams in the AIA Div. 3 East Section Meet at Crossroads Park on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
The AIA Div. 3 State Championships is at 12:40 p.m. Thursday at the same location.
The Longhorns finished with 108 points. Queen Creek American Leadership Academy won with 39 points, followed by Chandler Arizona College Prep (54) and Saguaro (93).
Payson beat Poston Butte (137), Gilbert Christian (139), Ironwood American Leadership Academy (148) and Globe (168).
Aubrie Mercer led the Longhorns, placing 12th in 21 minutes 5 seconds, followed by McKenzie Ball (17th in 21:46.1), Winnie Paine (26th in 22:45.7), Emma Paine (27th in 22:54.4) and Lydia Schouten (40th in 24:59.1) to round out the team scoring for the Longhorns.
Abby Long (28:21.8) and Desirae Lunsford (31:33.4) also finished for Payson.
“We gave each of the girls a target window for the place they should finish,” said head coach Jonathan Ball. “Every one of the girls were either in or exceeded the expectation on their targeted place, which led us to qualify pretty easily.
“The goal is always to peak at the end of the season. This group of girls might have had the best team peak of any group I have ever worked with.”
They benefited from experience on the Crossroads Park course, which is also where they’ll return this week for the state meet. Their coach entered them in the Oct. 8 Titan Invitational so they’d be familiar with the course.
“When you compare our times at the sectional to the times we ran just a month earlier, we made some incredible gains,” he said. “We had six girls that ran that same course twice this season.
“When you add up the times of all six we took our total time down by 11 minutes and three seconds. That is a significant amount of time shaved in just one month.
“When you break down the race, you see all six of the girls that had run the Crossroads Park course twice this season ran at least 52 seconds faster than the first time they ran the same course, six of our seven girls that ran at sectionals ran their best time of the season and three of the girls ran personal records.”
The gap between Payson’s top and fifth finisher in the two races on the Crossroads course went from 6:22 to 3:54, an improvement of 2:28.
Senior Emma Paine ran with her sister, Winnie, a sophomore. It was just Emma’s second race with the Longhorns after playing on the girls soccer team this fall. That season is over. Her only other race was the Titan Invitational.
Matthew Kester placed 41st among 106 finishers in the boys race in 19:56.5. Christopher Menghini (22:10.6) and Haden Davis (22:40) also finished for the Longhorns.