The Highland High School cross-country program endured success at the state cross-country meet Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix. Both the boys and girls teams walked away with hardware.
Led by senior Leo Daschbach’s first-place finish, the Hawks finished with 39 points overall to claim the Division I boys state championship. Highland beat Desert Vista’s 65 points and Brophy’s 69 points, to win the title.
“The boys had a target on their back and they knew it,” Highland coach Monty Mongtomery said. “They’ve probably ran about 3,000 miles together, I’m proud of them. I knew they deserved it and ran great today, probably the best all year.”
Despite dealing with an injury to the back of his knee, Daschbach impressed at the meet. The University of Washington commit jumped out to a 10-second lead over Brophy’s Xander Black to claim the Division I individual title, 15:27.7.
Daschbach’s high school career in both cross-country and track is one of the best in Arizona history. In September, he ran the second-fastest 5K ever in the U.S. at the 13th-annual Nike Desert Twilight in Casa Grande.
Last season, Daschbach finished second in the 5K behind Desert Vista’s Sammy Van Alstine, running the course in 16:06.99. Last spring, Daschbach helped Highland’s relay team set a new record in the 4x800-meter relay.
“This is the best win so far of my legacy,” Daschbach said. “Just to be able to win as a team, I think is the pinnacle of my high school career.”
Caden Resendez was the next Highland runner to finish the 5K; the senior completed the course in 15:51.1 for fifth. Senior Ernest Green followed Resendez in seventh, and was followed by his twin, Sam, in ninth.
Jagger Zlotoff, Carter Mayes and Brandon Ericson were the other three runners helping Highland to claim the title.
“This team means everything to me,” Daschbach said. “All of my individual accomplishments mean nothing without these guys. I’ve run with these guys the last four years and I’ve seen them push through any hardships.
“Being there for my team is the most important thing when it comes to cross-country and running in general.”
After the boys clinched the championship, the Highland girls nearly did too.
Led by junior Emma Finchum’s 10th place finish, the girls clinched the runner-up trophy behind Desert Vista with 99 points.
Finchum trailed her teammate, senior Caroline McLeskey, in the 5K before the unimaginable happened. McLeskey fell just before the finish, overcome by exhaustion from the race. Finchum saw her teammate on the ground trying to gather herself to finish, but she was unable to help. Had Finchum stopped and assisted her teammate, Highland would have been disqualified.
She had to leave her behind.
“It was hard, I didn’t know what to do but I knew I had to go past,” Finchum said. “I love all the girls. We have become so close as a team.”
Tears began streaming down Finchum’s face as she passed McLeskey, even more so after she finished. She turned and watched as McLeskey found the strength to crawl across the finish line to place 13th in the race.
If she did not finish, Highland wouldn’t have placed second.
“I knew my team needed me and we were trying to do well,” McLeskey said. “This is one of my last races as a senior and I owed it to my team to do that. It was so cool to watch Emma pass me.
“I knew if she was doing that well I had to finish. This team means everything.”
As the team gathered at their campsite following the race, tears flowed. The boys recognized both the girls and McLeskey for fighting through adversity.
Marina Dear, Jariel Sebastian, Kathryn Sewell, Story Alexander and Jordyn Carter were the other five runners helping Highland clinch second place in the Division I girls championship.
Both the boys and girls competed in the Nike Cross Regionals Southwest in Casa Grande on Saturday for a chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the 16th annual Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 7, in Portland, Oregon. Montgomery believed his team has the ability to compete against the top schools from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
None-the-less he is proud of the way both the girls and boys fought throughout the season to finish at the top.
“I think they wanted it,” Montgomery said. “I told them it was all up to them, you know, the hay is in the barn. It was up to them to perform and they did.”