PHOENIX - When it comes down to it, cross country is all about crossing the finish line
But there is another line out there that coaches have to deal with and every one of them approaches it differently.
"There is a fine line between pushing your athletes and pushing your athletes too far," Desert Vista coach Doug Christofis said after Saturday's Division I state meet. "Hopefully, as a coach, you get right to the line and have your athletes are primed for a top performance."
Christofis and Desert Vista boys coach Chris Hanson have proved to be two of the best of doing just that and that was the case again at Cave Creek Golf Course as the Thunder performed well in both races.
The girls finished second behind nationally-ranked Phoenix Xavier, 37 to 94, and the boys finished third behind two-time defending champion Phoenix Alhambra and Mesa Mountain View.
Alhambra finished with 102 points with the Toros at 112 and Desert Vista at 117.
Christofis has some unconventional ways in his training and openly talked to his runners about beating Xavier. Putting that type of pressure on high school girls can go one of two ways - motivate or mess with their confidence.
"We all had pressure and we ran the best race we could," sophomore Brittany Tretbar said. "Coach expects a lot from us but we wouldn't be at this level if he didn't push us."
The Thunder girls had three runners inside the top 14 as Tretbar was third, Megan Kupres was 11th and Yasmine Yacut was 14th with times of 19 minutes and 5.30 seconds, 19:39.45 and 19:52.24, respectively, on the 3.1-mile course.
"I wanted to win and thought we could, so let's get that straight, but what I wanted most was to have whoever beat us know they were in for a fight," Christofis said. "We did that. We pushed (Xavier) and let them know we were here."
The Thunder's chance of beating Xavier pretty much ended when Nicole Hicks, the team's No. 4 runner, couldn't finish the race after a physical ailment.
"She ran a courageous race and we had our other runners step up in her place," Christofis said.
In the boys race, Desert Vista finished in the top three for the eighth time since 2002, missing only last season when it was fourth.
Senior Ryan Maack (16:14.32) was seventh overall with sophomore Ryan Dykstra (16:18.68) finishing 10th (ninth in the team standings) and sophomore Carter Macey (16:25.46) was 17th (15th for time) for the Thunder.
"No knock against Ryan Maack but he is probably the least talented kid on my team," Thunder coach Chris Hanson said. "It just goes to show you what work ethic does for you in this sport. He is our captain and team leader. He did a phenomenal job and for him to finish top seven his senior year is a great thing."
Finishing out the scoring for the Thunder were junior Griffin Clithero (17:02.73 for 39th) and Spencer sophomore Spencer Clason (17:14.66 for 47th).
It gave the Thunder three sophomores amongst their top five scoring runners, which almost assuredly keeps Desert Vista in contention for years to come.
"We're disappointed, not in my guys because they ran hard, but that there were two teams better than us today," Hanson said. "Hats off to Alhambra and Mountain View but we always expect to win in November."
Mountain Pointe's day wasn't as celebratory but the Pride still did well as the boys squad, which finished 16th, was led by junior Dan Riley's time of 17:13.92. Junior Jalen Armstrong was second on the team at 17:27.17 and senior Jake Sciacca finished in 17:45.64.
"I was a little slower than I wanted and the course was a little more difficult," he said. "We have had some setbacks this year and missed some of our runners, but we stayed close as a team and got stronger as the season went on."
In the girls race Cera Hassinan, finishing 18th with a time of 20:02.58, set the pace for the Pride as they finished seventh.
"I think I got in the top 20 after finishing 13th last year," she said. "The field was much faster and I tried to keep it up with them. I did for awhile but the pace was too much and I just ran my race."
Senior Lindsay Schader was next for Mountain Pointe at 20:39.94 and senior Ellen Hill clocked a time of 21:06.35.
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