Desert Vista High School boys track team

Celebrating their recent success at the Arcadia Invitational are Desert Vista High School boys track team members, from left, Jakob Bagby, Connal Saxenna, Ethan Wright and Austin Werbelow, who are all posing with Coach Trent Elliott.

Special to AFN

Desert Vista High Schools’ track teams have left opponents in the dust for the last few years.

A boys’ state title in 2015 was followed up by two second-place finishes for the boys and girls this past season.

The Thunder have been proving their dominance in track and field for a little while now, but last weekend’s Arcadia Invitational was a new high for the storied programs.

Three school records were broken at the annual track meet, including a 10-year-old 3200m mark that was shattered by senior Aksel Laudon.

Vista track coach Chris Hanson praised Laudon’s performance, saying, “Those records were set by boys who were on our national championship team in 2008. Those marks were highly regarded. They would’ve been good marks at any campus.”

Laudon had company in the record books, though. Junior Ethan Wright broke a nine-year mark in the 300-meter hurdle.

Hanson was not surprised at all to see these two students rewarded for their season-long efforts.

“They lead by example, not just on the track, but in the classroom as well,” the longtime Thunder coach said of Laudon and Wright. “They’re both strong students, super focused, motivated and driven. It’s that kind of character and mentality that makes for a good teammate.”

Habtamu Cheney was another Desert Vista student to set a new school record at the team’s historic meet in Arcadia.

It’s not only the boys who are making waves.

Jillian Lombardi broke Thunder track records in the long jump and triple jump earlier this season as well.

For Cassandra McKenzie, girls track coach, the impressive performances at the tournament were simply the result of “trusting the process.”

“It just reflects on our athletes as a whole – the commitment that they put in,” McKenzie said. “I keep trying to tell the athletes it’s a process and things are going to fall in place.”

Hanson agrees.

While the personal milestones are great, that is not what track and field competition is all about, he said.

Hanson, coach for the past 22 years, said teamwork and preparation is at the heart of what Desert Vista preaches.

“When we win, really what matters to us is that we’re honoring the process. It’s the grind, the little day-to-day things that make me more proud. I’m not disappointed we won,” Hanson joked.

“But when you put your nose down and do the right things, those wins are going to happen,” he added. “I couldn’t be prouder of them, but I’m more proud of what they’re doing on a daily basis.”

Added McKenzie: “We tell them to just go out and do what we do every day and we’re going to be successful. The athletes have been trusting their training and that process.”

That process has led Vista track and field to the head of the class the past few years. The two teams have won a combined five state titles in the past eleven seasons.

But the drive to avenge last year’s runner-up finishes has fueled both groups this spring.

Despite praising the student’s individual accolades this past weekend, neither Hanson nor McKenzie could hide their desires for a team state title. And through that day-to-day process, both coaches believe the Thunder teams could hold that coveted trophy at the end of the season.

“Are we a little more motivated because we’ve finished second two years in a row to the same team? Of course. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to finish on top,” Hanson said.

McKenzie went even further, saying, “If I didn’t believe we would win state every year, I shouldn’t be a head coach.”

-Contact Brian Benesch at 480-898-5630 or bbenesch@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZBenesch

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