The backs of Tempe Corona del Sol’s team T-shirts reads “Power of the Pack,” and a young group of Aztecs may be drawing the attention of the powers-that-be in girls cross country.
You won’t find the Aztecs anywhere on the most recent state cross country top-20 rankings, but the freshmandominated team was an easy winner Saturday at the Ojo Rojo Invitational at Chandler’s Tumbleweed Park.
Corona totaled 78 points, 38 better than second-place Mesa Mountain View. Dobson was third and Horizon, led by individual winner Chelsea Chauvet, was fourth.
“It’s a huge difference from last year, going from one of the teams that’s not noticed to having a huge impact,” said Aztec junior Katie Kahler, the only returnee from last year’s team that finished 16th at the state tournament. “It’s night and day. It’s amazing, the difference.”
The difference is part energetic first-year coach John Drury, part new full-team concept with the boys squad, which finished fourth, and part introduction of five freshmen on the varsity roster Saturday.
Kahler led the way with a 10th-place finish, but freshmen Frankie DiCersare (11th), Tori Papp (15th) and Christina Freeman (19th) were all in the top 20 as six Aztecs finished in the top 32.
In last week’s unique Chandler Invitational — team results are based on finishes in four grade-level races — the Aztecs finished 10th, but, according to Drury, would have won the meet had it been scored traditionally.
Now they have some hardware to show for their efforts.
“Hopefully, good things will come from this,” Drury said. “We’re not one of the wellknown programs. If we get a little respect and confidence, it’s a good thing.”
Tempering Drury’s excitement a bit was the fact traditional powers Phoenix Mountain Pointe, the defending girls 5A Division I state champions, and Phoenix Desert Vista, as well as No. 3 Phoenix Xavier, were not in attendance.
The absences also included Horizon junior Jim Walmsley, perhaps the state championship favorite, and the topranked Desert Vista boys team, which took the week off in preparation for next week’s Bob Firman Invitational in Boise, Idaho, and the Doug Conley Invitational in Tempe the following weekend.
Thunder coach Chris Hanson doesn’t want his team peaking in September.
“In the grand scheme of things all that matters is Nov. 4,” said Hanson, referring to the date his team will try to defend its state title.
Horizon and Mountain View, two of the teams likely to challenge Desert Vista, finished 1-2 in among individuals and teams. Andrew Price filled in for Walmsley, and made it a Husky sweep of the individual honors, beating Toro P.J. Johnson by four seconds.
Horizon’s margin in the team standings was just 16 points.