Highland girls cross country

Highland’s girls cross country team placed first overall as a team at last weekend’s state championship meet. It was the first time in program history the girls were crowned champions.

The Arizona State high school Cross Country championships were held at Cave Creek Golf Course on Saturday, Nov. 13, and it showcased the best runners from across the entire state of Arizona.

It was a Highland type of day in the Division I girls race as the Hawks took home the team title by a mere seven points over Desert Vista.

The Hawks finished with an overall score of 38 and a team time of 1:37:58. Right behind Highland was the Thunder with 45 points and a team time of 1:36:43. Rounding out the top five was Liberty in third with 90 points, Xavier College Preparatory in fourth with 131 and Perry in fifth with 140 points.

Both Highland and Desert Vista dominated the top of the race, combining for each of the first six finishers, and 10 of the first 21. Desert Vista’s star runner, junior Lauren Ping finished a whopping 26 seconds ahead of second place runner Emma Baugh with a time of 17:39:04.

The story of the race was Highland having a five-runner time gap of only 56 seconds, despite not having the top individual finisher.

The Hawks, who got a small taste of a state title last year after narrowly losing to the Thunder by three points, cherished the moment in the immediate aftermath of the race.

“We’re state champions,” junior Kayla Case screamed with tears running down her cheeks.

The result of the race was a program defining victory, but the team’s shared mindset all season long is what made it possible.

“We always do our best to keep our attitudes so light,” Highland head coach Dave Montgomery said. “We don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. For us, it’s just another meet, and honestly we had nothing to lose.”

The second overall finisher, Baugh, went further into detail about the Highland-mindset.

“I wrote on my arm, don't be afraid of the end, because sometimes I hold myself back, but we went for it today and it paid off,” she said.

At the end of the day, this wasn’t just another race for Highland. It was the race of a lifetime. It was the race that these girls will end up remembering for the rest of their running careers, and frankly, their lives.

Red Mountain finished in seventh place as its top three runners were 31st Ariel Fendenheim (20:48.6), 32nd Kayla Hansen (20:55.8) and 41st Taylor Jacobs (21:17:1). Chandler finished in eighth as its top three runners were 17th Ava Potts (20:23:2), 25th Sophia Noriega (20:39:2), and 26th Lauren Kazaroff (20:41.6).

Skyline finished in 12th with its top three runners being 42nd Sydney Jelleberg (21:18.4), 52nd Abby Oberfield (21:54.6), and 55th Mayte Manuel (21:56.7).

Thunder struck again in the Division I boys state championships as Desert Vista took home the team title for the first time since 2018.

The Thunder finished with 62 points and a team time of 1:23:15, while Highland finished as the runner-up with 95 points and a team time of 1:24:57.

Rounding out the top 5 was Mountain View in third with 133 points, Red Mountain in fourth with 137, and Brophy College Prep in fifth with 189 points. This was Desert Vista’s sixth state title over the past 8 years, and it ends a two-year drought where it finished both times as the runners-up.

The boys race jumped out to a blistering first mile, but Desert Vista wasn’t dominating the field just yet.

“You can’t win the race in the first mile, but you can easily lose it there,” Desert Vista head coach Chris Hanson said.

The top individual finisher, Desert Vista senior Noah Jodon, was seen smiling after the first mile while sitting about 15 spots behind first place.

“Nothing helps my motivation more than passing people,” Jodon said. “You’ll never find a better feeling than passing people late in the race.”

This race was much bigger than that, it was for the Desert Vista cross country family as a whole.

“We raced for each other today, as I’ve said many times, this team is truly a brotherhood, and I’m just happy we went out and did our job today,” said Jodon, the current top high school runner in Arizona.

Red Mountain finished in fourth place as its top three runners were ninth Noah Czajkowski (16:35.7), 27th Tyler Mathews (17:19.5) and 28th Matthew Hamilton (17:19.6).

Chandler finished in eighth place as its top three runners were seventh place junior Gibson Kibia (16:34.6), 29th place Francis Kibia (17:20.2) and 45th placed D’andre Watson (17:41.6).

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