The Desert Vista boys cross country kept its pack mentality even defeat.

Instead of going their separate way at the award ceremony at Cave Creek Golf Course after receiving their trophy for second place Saturday in the Division I meet, the Thunder stuck together and congratulated Corona del Sol.

It was classy gesture considering the Thudner did enough – placing five in the top 25 – to win most years but this one was the Aztecs’ from the start.

“We had a good plan, but they didn’t allow our plan to follow through,” Thunder coach Chris Hanson, who was hoping to win the school’s sixth title. “I give all the credit it Corona.”

The Aztecs swept the top three spots while their fourth and fifth runners finished 20th and 22nd to give Corona its first title in 21 years with a score of 48 to the Thunder’s 60.

Ironwood Ridge (100), Mesa Mountain View and Mountain Ridge (189) finished out the top five.

Running as the favorite can be a difficult task, but Corona pulled it off one more time in 2013.

“It’s not easy as it seems,” said Corona del Sol coach Pat Smith, who has been the coach for 16 years. “We’ve had success all year. The pressure builds toward the end and when you are expected win it is a lot harder.

“This is the culmination of all the work done by everyone who has come through the program over the years. It all just kind of came together this year.”

The Aztecs were going to be contenders this year regardless with Nate Rodriguez and Ryan Normand returning after top 10 finishes last season, but reached a new level when transfer Marcus Wheeler, who was considered a top freshman when he ran for Hamilton two years ago then sat out last year at Chandler before joining Corona’s program over the summer, was added to the mix.

“It certainly helped,” said Smith, who led the Aztecs to a state runner-up finish in 2009. “The three up front lead the group. They set the tone for everyone. They put in a lot of miles in the summer and hard work pays off.”

The same can be said for Rodriguez, who won the race with a time of 15:29.98, as he finally was able to run out front instead of chasing Cibola’s Bernie Montoya, who is running for Arizona State after winning three state titles.

“Ever since my freshman year I thought about it and it means even more with the team trophy,” he said. “I tried keeping my goals in sight and do everything for the team. Our ability to come together as a team, doing things that haven’t been done at Corona for a long time, is what stands out the most.”

The Thunder know what it is like to hoist the trophy and they have the talent returning next year to make another run in 2014.

This season will be remembered as a very good one, but when a program is as successful as Desert Vista somehow second place can feel like a disappoint while most teams can only dream about having such success.

“It was a good year,” Hanson said. “We felt like if certain things fell into place we could make a run at it, but Corona’s fourth (Patrick Cullings) and fifth (Blake Fischer) runners were the difference.”

The Thunder were lead by sophomore Xavier Esparza, who finished fifth with a time of 16:11.75, while senior Jacob Walimaa (16:22.70) was next at 14th place.

Senior Alex Hoty (17th, 16:29.21), junior Kyle Havriliak (21st, 16:36.16) and junior Ben Davis (23rd, 16:37.79) rounded out the scoring for the Thunder.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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