The Desert Vista High School cross-country team celebrates winning its fourth consecutive state title after blowing away the competition over the weekend.
Mark Schmissuer/Special to AFN

For the fourth straight year, the Desert Vista High School boys cross-country team was crowned as the Division I state champions, blowing away the competition with a team score of 34.

“It doesn’t get old, every one of them is special and we celebrate this one the same, but it’s certainly exciting to get four in a row, and we did believe awhile back that we had an opportunity to do that,” Desert Vista head coach Chris Hanson said, adding:

“But, to actually do it, it kind of puts it into perspective because you can’t really wrap your head around it until it happens.”

Desert Vista finished 96 points ahead of the second-place team and the school’s top five runners all finished in the top 15 and all seven finished in the top 30.

While capturing a state championship is a great accomplishment, Desert Vista has bigger goals.

In two weeks, the team will attempt to finish in the top two teams at the NXR Southwest Regional Championships so it can qualify for the National Championships on December 2 in Portland, Oregon – something no boys cross-country team from Arizona has ever done.

Hanson believes their performance on Saturday sets them up well to compete against the top teams in the Southwest.  

“I think this puts us in position to be competitive,” Hanson said. “We know there are some strong teams coming from Utah and from Colorado and we certainly don’t think were in the driver seat by any stretch of the imagination. But, the good news is we don’t have to worry about them we just have to worry about ourselves and take care of the things that we need to do.”

But the Thunder will savor this victory for now.

Through the first five minutes of the race, six Desert Vista runners were paced together in the top 25. After two miles, the three-time defending state champions were on pace for a team score of 36, which they ended up beating with a final team score of 34.

As the racers came over the final hill, senior Habtamu Cheney held the lead, and it looked like he would become Desert Vista’s fourth individual state champion and the first since 2015.

But Highland sophomore Leo Daschbach out-sprinted Cheney down the stretch to capture the individual honor with a clocking of 15:53, three seconds ahead of Cheney.

“It wasn’t exactly the result I wanted,” Cheney said after capturing second place. “I finished fourth last year and beat my time this year and but the goal was a team state championship.”  

Fellow seniors Reece Donihi (16:06), Bryce Schmisseur (16:14), and Nick Thatcher (16:21), placed fifth, ninth and 12th. Super sophomore and Section I individual champion Sammy Van Alstine rounded out the top five runners for Desert Vista, finishing sixth with a clocking of 16:08.

The Thunder had success at the sectional meet, sitting some of its top runners and still capturing a sectional championship – which Hanson said gives the program hope moving forward. But, of the seven runners who competed for the Thunder at the state meet, six were seniors.

Hanson said it will be tough to replace them after this year.

“There are six seniors who raced today, and it’s going to be hard to replace them. This is a strong senior class, and we have known it since they were freshmen,” Hanson said.  

After the race, Hanson said he was a big believer that the relationships he has been able to build with the seniors has been a big part of their success over the past few years.

Most of the seniors have been with the program since they were freshmen, giving them four years to buy into the program and the work ethic that was needed to accomplish their goals.  

“The relationship is the key. It’s huge, and to have them for four years is just amazing,” Hanson said. “When I hear of stories in New York and Minnesota and Florida, they get kids in middle school, so they have kids for six or seven years. I can see how they are national powerhouses, because it’s the relationship that impacts the runner and impacts the team and the whole culture.”

On Nov. 18, the team will compete for an opportunity to qualify for the National Championship at NXR Southwest Regional Championship. That meet will take place at the Grande Sports Complex in Casa Grande.

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