Desert Vista entered the Division I cross country state championships on Saturday crippled due to several late-season injuries. It left the course a few hours later with its first state title since 2008.
The Thunder overcame a season-ending injury to top runner Carter Macey – coach Chris Hanson said losing Macey was akin to a football team losing its starting quarterback – to fend off a strong effort by Highland and Corona del Sol and take first in the state meet at Cave Creek Golf Course.
Desert Vista tallied 101 points, which bettered the 135 posted by Highland and the 147 points Corona accumulated.
“I think maybe when we lost our No. 1 runner a lot of people wrote us off,” Hanson said.
Although Macey couldn't contribute on the course, Hanson said the star runner still affected the race by displaying strong leadership and work ethic in the buildup to the state meet, which Hanson said had a profound influence on the team.
Macey wasn't the only person Desert Vista missed, as recent graduate and Thunder cross-country diehard Tim Lupton-Stegall passed away after a year-long battle with cancer in July. To commemorate Lupton-Stegall's memory, the runners had a patch with his first name sewn onto their jerseys during the championship run.
“This would have meant so much to him,” Hanson said.
Although his team finished second overall, Highland coach David Montgomery praised his team for its performance.
He said his Hawks “left it on the course today” and credited the efforts of both the Corona and Desert Vista athletes.
“It was so close, I think all three teams ran as hard as they could and Desert Vista came out on top,” he said.
Highland did end with a runner in the top five individually. Logan Woolf took fifth with a time of 16 minutes, 7 seconds, while the Aztecs' Nate Rodriguez finished third at 15:57.
No one could keep pace with Cibola senior Bernie Montoya, whose time of 15:14 was more than enough for him to earn his third straight state championship.
“I'm happy, I think we've accomplished our goal [of] three championships,” Montoya said.
Saturday's meet featured another runner that wrapped up a high school career with three consecutive state championships.
Joining Montoya on that list was Xavier and University of Virginia recruit Sarah Fakler, who won the Division I girls race comfortably in 18:02.
Fakler, whose only loss in the state championship was in her freshman year to former teammate Jessica Tonn, will end her high-school career with four team state championships as well. The Gators bested Mountain View and Desert Vista to earn the first-place finish. The Gators, who scored 55 points, had all seven of their runners finish in the top 23.
“Our coach always says seniors graduate but tradition never does,” Fakler said. “It was great to be able to run so long for this program.”
Following Fakler in the individual race was Highland senior Kristi Rush, who jumped from 11th overall in 2011 to her runner-up status by setting a personal record of 18:50.
“I ran exactly as I wanted and even better,” she said.
Taking the top team spot in the boys Division II race was Cactus Shadows, as the team's 78 points pushed it ahead of Canyon del Oro and Marana Mountain View, who recorded 142 and 158 points, respectively.
Cactus Shadows coach Patty Egan said past Falcon teams had come close to winning the championship before, but hadn't reached the “finally” moment, one where the team moved beyond its frequent runner-up status.
“Sometimes at this level kids react differently to the pressure,” she said, “I'm glad our guys could keep it in perspective and win another race.”
Pacing Cactus Shadows was Ethan Homan, who took fourth overall in 16:18. He finished 17 seconds behind state champion Andy Trouard of Tucson Salpointe, who won the title in his first year as a cross country runner.
Taking first in the girls' race was Flagstaff runner Tatiana Gillick, who ran the course in 18:55 and paced her Flagstaff squad to a first-place finish for the second year in a row. Notre Dame senior Julie Vanderhout finished third overall.