Desert Vista has been among Arizona’s premier high school cross-country programs for years and this season appears to be no different heading into the Division I state championships on Saturday at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix.
The DV girls, who placed third at state a year ago, prepped for this year’s championship race by tying Highland for first place with 29 points in the Division I, Section 3 meet last week. DV and Highland are expected to battle Section 1 champion Xavier for the state title.
“The intensity is increasing, but our expectations are even higher,” said first-year girls coach and DV alum Jenna Maack.
The Desert Vista boys, who won their fourth consecutive Division I state title and ninth overall last season, appear to be chasing Highland, Brophy and Mountain View this year. The Thunder took a distant second to Highland in the sectional meet.
“The expectation is we are going to have to earn it,” said Chris Hanson, who is in his 23rd season as DV boys coach.
Mountain Pointe placed sixth in both the boys and girls races at sectionals. Alex Graham of the Pride took sixth place. No MP girls finished in the top 10.
The Desert Vista boys, with a culture of title expectations, have a revamped lineup, having lost seven seniors to graduation. They had only one runner, Demetris Love, crack the top 10 in the sectional race.
“Focus on the process,” Hanson said of his model. “We focus on the little things because we know the little things will take care of the big things.”
Maack immediately modeled her program after the boys program built by Hanson, who’d been her mentor during her high school running days. After Maack ran at Arizona State for four years, it was Hanson who encouraged Maack to take the DV girls coaching position. So if she sounds like Hanson, perhaps that’s why.
“First, there’s the dedication of the athletes and the coaches,” Maack said. “We all want what’s best for each other. There’s also, our dedication to the process, working hard every single day, making sure they are doing all the little things.”
Her program is built through coaches and players holding each other accountable. Accountability gives the runners a support system, which will help them grow both individually and as a team, Maack believes.
“We really focus on that mental part of running rather than just doing a hard workout or completing a long run,” said DV girls senior captain Janelle Tarchinski. “I think we focus on having that positive mental state and having that supplementary training and getting together outside of practice.”
The Thunder girls have the depth needed to compete for the state title. After lead runner Katy Clausen took second in the sectionals in 18 minutes, 31.1 seconds over the 5K course at Cesar Chavez Park in Laveen, DV runners Holly Hansen (20:18.2), Olivia Thatcher (20:20.7), Maddy Shoemaker (20:27.3), Eve Boardman (20:38.1) and Sydni Nedza (20:50.1) ran in a tight pack to finish among the top 10 runners.
Desert Vista gets help from middle-school feeder programs at Kyrene Akimel A-al and Kyrene Altadeña. The Thunder try to make an appearance at the middle-school meets to show their support.
“Coach Hanson has really shaped this into a great program and it’s just an enjoyable experience,” boys senior captain Lee Nasewytewa said. “He focuses on the future and he is proactive.”