Over the past 11 years Desert Vista’s girls cross country team has won two state championships.
What may be more impressive is that the Lady Thunder have rarely been out of the top 10 at the state 5A-I meet.
“Sometimes you’ll get a school like (Tucson) Flowing Wells or Salpointe (Catholic) win and then you don’t seen them again,” Desert Vista girls cross country coach Doug Christofis said. “Our girls have come through even when they’ve had major letdowns.”
Salpointe won the title in 2006 and Flowing Wells took home a trophy in 2004. Phoenix Xavier has won the last two championships.
Meanwhile, Desert Vista was the runner-up in 2002, 2003 and in 2005 when the Thunder finished behind four-time champion Mountain Pointe.
Without their top runner in the field Desert Vista still managed a fourth in 2006, fifth in 2007 and sixth last season after Ali Connell was injured in track a few months earlier.
The Lady Thunder are going into one of the most prestigious events of the season, the Doug Conley Invitational, with a team victory last month in the Chandler Invitational.
“You can win the Conley and no one remembers,” Christofis said. “The state meet is the one everyone remembers and we gear up for that one.”
They also placed fifth among 17 teams in the Nike Pre-National Jim Danner Invitational last month in Portland, Ore.
“Did I make them that?” Christofis asked before answering himself with, “No, they are talented young ladies who have stepped up and I’m extremely proud of them.”
Desert Vista will be trying to live up to the Lady Thunder tradition with three freshmen among the top seven runners.
“It’s more about the girls than anything else,” Christofis said. “As coaches we tend to have egos and think we’re the ones who create these incredible teams and the reality is that you have the kids or you don’t. We can certainly help, but if you don’t have the horses you’re not going to do it.”
Desert Vista’s “horses” like Jenna Maack, Megan Kupres, Megan Dudzinski, Brittany Tretbar, Carrisa McAtee, Erin Andrew-Sharer, Jessica Ecomomou and Connell, who is trying to make a comeback this season, could turn out to be thoroughbreds.
Christofis feels he has a girls cross country team that is willing to make sacrifices this season, even when it can be painful.
“The big thing is these girls will put themselves through pain in a race to get what they want,” Christofis added. “It’s about believing and having confidence in themselves.”
There are 38 runners on the Desert Vista team this season and not all of them will have a spot at the starting line this year.
“They don’t complain,” he said. “They show up and push themselves. There will be some recognition among the top runners, but what inspires and motivates me are the girls who have no hope of running in a state meet or college, but show up every day anyway to get better.”
As Desert Vista’s strength coach, Christofis naturally has his cross country team work out in the weight room. He has also conditioned athletes in other sports like tennis and golf.
“With these girls it’s not all about strength in the body, but in the mind,” he added.
Christofis admits he may have also mellowed as a coach over the years.
“We still want to win and be competitive,” he said, “but if I can help a runner enjoy running and help it become a life-long habit, I’d feel pretty good about that. I couldn’t say that a few years ago.”