With a mile left, and a substantial lead, Dani Jones was starting to feel a little off when the Desert Vista junior got the inspiration she needed.
“I started to feel pretty bad with a mile to go,” Jone said Saturday. “It’s the course and the heat, but then I started to hear everyone cheering for (her sister) Baylee and I was like, ‘keep going, finish strong.’ ”
It wasn’t long after that that Jones won the Division I cross country individual title and the cheering changed from his sister to the three other freshmen in the Thunder’s top seven as Desert Vista was able to capture its first team title in 13 years.
“The first mile was conservative for us because of the hilly start,” said the elder Jones, whose winning time was 18:00.79 on the 3.1-mile course at Cave Creek Golf Course. “We went out of the way we wanted to and we really picked it up at the second mile.”
The Thunder stopped Xavier’s six-year reign as the DI standard by finishing with five runners in the top 23 to edge the Gators’ 60-70 on the strength of youthful endurance that bodes well for the future.
Desert Vista’s second through five runners are all freshmen and their sixth runner is a sophomore.
“I am so excited about the next 3 ½ years,” said Baylee Jones, who finished in 18:10.88. “I can’t even describe how good this feels already. I couldn’t care less how I did as an individual as long as we won it.”
The Jones sisters were backed by Madi Bucci (16th, 19:22.76), Amanda Davis (20th, 19:29.88) and Sabrina Camino (21st, 19:34.46).
“I am really proud of our kids who competed hard,” Thunder coach Jeff Messer said. “We were not winning the race 2 ¼ miles so they closed hard to get it done. That’s what we strategized to do, no different than that. The trust and patience paid off.”
The Thunder won their first state title (third overall) since 2000 after finishing as runner-up six times since last reaching the top of the standings.
“We’ve always believed,” said Messer, who took over the program in February after helping Xavier to its string of success. “We never really talked about winning state with the exception of about 10 minutes (on Friday night). It’s always about process, never outcome.
“One of our mantra’s has always been no limits ever.”
Mountain Pointe’s Francesca Olguin knows a little something about that.
The Pride senior only ran in three races this season after dealing with 14 lumps in her lungs. She was originally being diagnosed with thyroid cancer during his sophomore year of running cross country and went through chemotherapy and radiation.
She still isn’t at 100 percent yet, but just getting back on the course is more important than anything.
“I felt all right, but took some time off,” she said. “I’m not peaking yet. Wait till track season, that’s when I will be really strong.”
She finished 46th overall with a time of 20:31.18, while teammate Ramsay Chancellor placed 50th with a tome of 20:33.84.
In Division IV race, Horizon Honors senior Mikaela Martin finished 13th overall as she missed out on her third top five finish of her career with a time of 20.28.36.
She was clearly disappointed and needed some time to herself before acknowledging she had a pretty special career that she expects to continue in college at either Westmont College or Biola University next fall.
“It’s hard to come up short (of your goals), especially your senior year,” she said. “I didn’t prepare well for it and I never do well at this race.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.