Keelah Barger didn’t have long to catch her breath after she helped the Northland Prep Spartans girls repeat as Division IV state cross country champions Saturday.
The Great Blue Wave had engulfed her, but then the excitement of the Northland Prep boys finally claiming a state title by defeating the legendary Hopi Bruins had her heartbeat racing again.
The Spartans defeated the Bruins, 57-68, on Saturday on the Cave Creek Golf Course, putting an end to the Hopi boys’ historic stretch of 27 consecutive state titles.
“They knew it was a possibility last year and going into this year, so they were really focusing on it and it happened,” said Spartans head coach Missy Acker. “They’ve all been working as a group to race together — we call it the Blue Wave — and they really love and support and work out with each other, and they won it all together.”
Battling for position in the last half-mile as runners from both teams went shoulder-to-shoulder, three Spartans finished in the top 10, while Hopi also saw three in the top 10. Spartan Brandon Bounds, a sophomore, had a fourth-place finish in 17:01 to lead his team. Another Spartans sophomore, Hayden Andersen, was the next for the team to cross, taking the No. 8 spot in 17:09, and Nalzheii Lonetree was 12th.
Barger and the Spartans weren’t the only people from the city of Flagstaff celebrating a historic day of running.
The Flagstaff Eagles boys and girls three-peated in Division II, Northland Prep’s Maya Smith finished her high school career with her fourth and final individual title as her teammates garnered their second consecutive title and the Coconino Panthers girls finished runner-up for the second straight season.
“I would have never dreamed that we would be here, but in the same breath, I believe in these kids,” said Eagles head coach Trina Painter. “They have shown a tremendous work ethic, they’ve inspired and supported each other for the last four years working toward this year, so it’s fun to see it happen.”
The Page boys continued their dominance of D-III, finishing in first for the fourth consecutive year.
While the Hopi boys wept tears of sadness, Northland Prep cried out of joy while the official results were being counted. The Spartans wanted to be as prepared as possible after missing it a year before when they finished third.
“We all ran really well, meshed really well in this race in particular without a doubt,” Bounds said.
Running the final race of the day, the Spartans boys had to face not only stiff competition, but also the rising temps.
“We went down to Sedona and trained in the heat,” Lonetree said.
Smith ended her illustrious high school cross country career with a time of 18:01, taking 20 seconds off her 2016 state meet time. During her four years with the team, Smith played a key role in helping the Spartans girls to three state titles and one runner-up finish that came in 2015. This year, as in years past, she led the field the entire race.
“I’d like to think my love of running and love of my team hasn’t changed,” said Smith, who posted her best time ever at the state meet. “I try not to think about the time, whether I am faster or slower, but just enjoying it again — which is what happened the first time and what I wanted to repeat.”
Barger, a senior who only joined the team this season, finished third for the Spartans, who cruised to a victory with 70 points. Hopi came in second with 134 points, and St. Michaels went third at 137 points. Nora Blodgett crossed the finish line in eighth with a time of 20:23, Andrea Lopez was 27th in 21:24, and Kate Bailey earned a 43rd-place finish. The team’s top four finishers ran their final races for the school as seniors.
Flagstaff was also loaded with senior talent.
The Eagles girls, led by Brianna White’s fifth-place finish in 19:23 (a 6:15 pace), won with 49 points, with Chaparral in second at 80 and North Canyon third with 127. Maddy Christopher was right with White, crossing in 19:24 for sixth. Chloe Painter earned a 10th-place finish in 19:52, Katrina Vollmer took 13th, and Povi Plank placed 16th. Angel Curley added a 23rd-place finish, and also running for the Eagles were Taylor Lowry, who just missed a top-50 finish as she came in at No. 52.
A light, cool breeze and temps in the low 70s in the morning helped the Eagles keep their streaks alive.
“It was almost a bit humid, but the cooler temperatures are what we are more used to, so it felt like home -- it was nice and cool, it was great,” White said.
Flagstaff’s Wren Cooperrider, who was part of all three championships, said his team was ready no matter what the forecast showed.
“We’ve been training hard, so yeah, the weather maybe helped, but it wasn’t a deciding factor.”
With Davis Boggess, Flagstaff’s top finisher on the boys side last year, out with injury and with no big names like Courtney Lewis, Tatianna Gallick and Valentina Nyhart leading the packs this time, it was the depth and experience on both sides that made the target on the Eagles’ back grow even larger upon getting another championship.
“A lot of teams have their frontrunner and some teams have the deep squad. This year we had the deep squads,” Trina Painter said.
The Flagstaff boys were led by senior Flynn Fuhrmann and his seventh-place finish in 16:34. Cooperrider was next to cross, clocking a 16:57, with junior Nate Milton getting 32nd, senior Corey Blubaum picking up 33rd and Peyton Sventek tallying a 42nd-place finish. Riley Human cracked the top 50 at 47th and Zac Joyce also ran for the Eagles, who registered 127 points to beat out Camp Verde’s 146. Deer Valley finished in third with 172 points.
Trina Painter had anticipated the race for some time.
“We looked at this years ago because we know the schedule (of when the divisions run) rotates,” she said. “It was interesting because when this crop of freshman came in, we knew this year we would be loaded with seniors on both sides. We looked at the schedule and I was excited that we would get the first races of the day.”
For Page’s head coach, confidence was on the team’s side this time around.
“This year, we were confident. Four years ago, they had to learn to get over that hump,” said MacArthur Lane. “This year, we exuded confidence and this group of boys, they knew they were going to win but it was still a matter of executing.”
The Sand Devils boys crushed the field with a three-four-five pack that has been together for the past three years. Junior Martin Bowen got his bronze at 16:14, a 5:14.2 pace, with Dorian Daw taking fourth and Morgan Fowler placing fifth.
The Coconino boys, paced by Taylor Taliman and his 17:50 time for 47th, ended the day in ninth.
The Coconino girls improved upon their finish from last season, when they notched 118 points, 10 points more than this year’s performance. Woodlyn Smith, one of five juniors on the squad, was the first of the Panthers to get to the water tanks, putting up a 19:39 for seventh place. In 18th overall and second for Coconino, Kaelynn Ashley, a sophomore, logged a 20:37. Lilia Tassinari was 24th, Hope Saxton 26th and Jordan Brockman 46th.
“I felt that this was the strongest race we’ve run all season,” said Smith, who was out with injury for two weeks prior to the big meet.
For first-year Panthers head coach Shannon Taylor, the finish proved the program is heading in the right direction. She saw her team run with strength throughout the miles.
“I saw them take off and then again at the one-and-a-half-mile mark and they were picking people off, pushing through, and Woodlyn got in great position that first mile. Then the girls just pushed each other,” Taylor said.
Rebecca Sturm and Megan Holm represented the Basis girls, finishing 73rd and 93rd overall in the D-IV meet.