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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Payment hits right note

Mike Saunders Correspondent

Mozart composed three symphonies by the time he hit age 11.

It took Priest River’s Whitney Payment a little longer, but since she took up cross country last year, she’s been making some beautiful music of her own.

Payment, a junior, earned her first cross country win at the Super 1/Farragut Invitational last Saturday. In doing so, she shaved five minutes off her time in last year’s race, when she finished 30th.

Talk of prodigies and the attention that has come with her sudden success, though, seems to have Payment perplexed.

When asked what she’s done to improve so much in so little time, she’s nonplussed.

“Not really anything,” said Payment, who did, however, compete on a select team in Australia and Hawaii over the summer, according to her mother, Janet.

It must be thrilling to travel the globe and receive the accolades that come with victory, right?

“I haven’t thought too much about it, really,” said Payment, who also runs track and owns every Priest River distance record, save the 800 meters.

Getting Wolfgang Amadeus to explain his art must not have been too easy, either.

What does appear to make Payment light up is competition: the sense of another runner pushing her to go that much harder, faster.

“In practice, I’m thinking about almost anything,” she said. “But the race is what it’s all about – knowing that there’s someone behind me that may be able to catch me.”

Spartans coach Lance Clark attributes Payment’s meteoric rise to strong genes and a solid work ethic instilled by her parents.

“She’s just got the natural ability to do it – an amazing cardiovascular system,” Clark said. “She didn’t know she had it in her and then she ends up getting third in districts last year out of the blue.

“I thought, ‘Oh, we have a stud on our hands here.’ “

Clark said Payment’s presence has also paid some less-tangible dividends.

“She’s really pushed the other girls to get that much better,” Clark said.

As for how much better she can get herself, it depends on who you talk to.

“Probably not that much better,” Payment said. “I think I’m leveling off.”

Clark isn’t so sure.

“She’s getting better every race,” Clark said of his young star, who finished 10th at the 3A state meet last year. “She definitely has goals – if she beats one girl in our league, then she focuses on a girl in another league.

“She’s just a competitor – naturally.”

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