Payson High’s cross country roster fluctuates from year to year more than other sports for a very simple reason — it’s a demanding sport.

“Running is hard,” said Payson cross country coach Jonathan Ball.

“It takes a certain type of person, a certain dedication to know that you’re going to run an hour after school; to know that you’re going to run 12 x 400 (meters) or some of the workouts we do. Recruiting’s kind of hard sometimes.”

Ball began his 10th season as the Longhorns’ head coach by leading a roster of seven girls and four boys into the Desert Solstice in Tucson on Friday. It takes five runners finishing a race to generate a team score.

Last year, the boys team featured more than 10 runners.

The boys team includes: seniors Jacob Fitzhugh, Justin Keegan and Michael Cline; and sophomore Mathew Kester.

“We’re going to try to run five at the sectional meet,” Ball said. “By that time, maybe we’ll get a soccer player or two to run with us.”

The girls team includes senior Karissa Ball; juniors Aubrieta Mercer and Lydia Schouten; and freshmen McKenzie Ball, Winifred Paine, Abigail Long and Izabell Sias.

Fitzhugh has developed into a leader on the boys team after just missing qualifying for the Division 3 state meet as a junior by finishing 28th in the challenging Section 4 in 18 minutes 10.71 seconds — just 2.07 seconds behind the 25th and final qualifying time.

“He kind of rededicated himself this summer,” Ball said. “This year he’s just really determined. I like the leadership that Jacob’s showing.

“He went to a camp at NAU and he’s established some things from that camp in our program like rope stretching and some core exercises. So, we’re really trying to benefit from him attending that camp.”

Area residents get a chance to watch the Longhorns in the Payson Invitational beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Payson Event Center. Middle school races start the action at 2 o’clock.

Schouten is a leader on a young but talented girls team. She and Mercer are the only returning girls.

“I think with our girls we need good leadership because we have some quality runners,” coach Ball said.

Mercer qualified for the state meet individually in each of her first two seasons and sets the pace for the girls.

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