The sport that costs the least to participate in just might pay the biggest dividends.
Cross country, or long distance running in general, can be a life-long sport that shows individuals how far they can push their body to extremes and learn the reality of their physical and mental limitations.
The sport also has a team aspect that creates a bond similar to an offensive line in football that thrives on the idea of working as one is vital to success and the idea of letting them down pushes them to work harder.
The Desert Vista boys and girls programs have worked to become the state’s most decorated dual program as both teams have finished in the top three for four straight years with the girls winning the Division I title last season and the boys finishing as runner-up after winning it all in 2012.
The boys have finished in the top 11 times in the last 12 years with five titles (2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012).
The girls have won three titles (1998, 2000, 2013) and have finished as state runner-up six other times.
The streak is expected to continue this season as both teams return with plenty of depth and talent to remain in the top three if not pull off two titles.
The girls are in the best position as they return all but one of the runners from last year’s state meet led by All-American Dani Jones, who won the individual title last season.
The four other runners all finished in the top 25 last season at the state meet to place high expectations on the Thunder in 2014 especially with the addition of Kyra Lopez, a transfer from Sandra Day O’Connor who is receiving Division I attention after finishing eighth in the state meet 2013.
“Our student athletes and coaches have demonstrated fantastic, consistent commitment throughout the summer and early season,” second-year coach Jeff Messer said. “Our singular expectation and defining goal is simply to honor a process in every aspect of our preparation that allows us to serve as outstanding citizens, to achieve academic excellence, and to compete to the very best of our collective ability.”
Oh, and they can run long distances in fairly quick times, too.
The other four runners to contribute the most this season are all sophomores in state runner-up Baylee Jones, Madi Bucci (17th place), Mandy Davis (21st) and Sabrina Camino (23rd).
The Thunder boys aren’t quite as stacked or return as many contributors, but Chris Hanson always has his pack peaking at the right time of the year.
Desert Vista will be led by junior Xavier Esparza, who finished fifth at the state meet, but he will have plenty of company to help keep the tradition going in 2014.
Seniors Kyle Havriliak, who was 23rd at state, and Ben Davis, who was 25th at state, will look to move into the top 15 while juniors D.J. Harris and Matt Anciaux will need to reach another level in order for Desert Vista to compete for the title.
“If we buy into team first mentality and stay healthy we will be good,” Hanson said.
Mountain Pointe coach Grant Sinclair hopes the Pride makes big strides in his second year running both the boys and girls programs.
The boys squad should be led by junior Jack Amodei, while Itzamma Hinojosa is a newcomer with some promise.
The girls program lost its top two runners, but should have experienced runners in juniors Kassidy Conroy and Caitlin Asher.
“We plan to continue moving up through the ranks of the competition at invitational meets and in the post-season,” Sinclair said. “The level of dedication exhibited by last year’s freshmen and sophomores who have elected to commit to the new system is phenomenal. And their progress is remarkable as a result. We should return to being competitive even sooner than we initially expected.”
Horizon Honors will be without the greatest runner in school history as Mikaela Martin moves on after a stellar career.
The Eagles will have a light roster per usual as there are only five girls on the roster and the boys team isn’t much bigger.
The boys appear to have a leader in sophomore Trevor Tam and will be backed by his twin, Aaron.
Regardless of how many athletes toe the line this year coach Lura Beets keeps a high standard for anyone putting on the light blue uniform.
“I have high expectations for all returning and new arrivals to our team to do their best throughout the season with their running as well as team camaraderie.”
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