The Flagstaff cross country teams are still leading the way, but the other programs in town are speeding up.
And Wednesday's annual City Championship Meet at Buffalo Park was a microcosm of the high school cross country scene in town.
“All of the schools in Flagstaff have improved tremendously and part of that is iron sharpens iron," Eagles head coach Trina Painter said. "Everyone is pushing everyone, whether it be an individual versus an individual or a team against a team."
Flagstaff dominated the day, winning both the girls and boys 3-mile races in addition to crowning two individual champions. The Eagles girls had the low score of 17 points, placing four runners in the top five. Meanwhile, the Flagstaff boys crew ended with just 18 points to go along with one of the best all-time male performances at the meet.
Flagstaff junior Max Davis took first place in 15:54.76, besting his bronze showing a year ago that came in 16:02. Painter said his performance is an example of how far he's come since joining the program.
"He was good his first year, but he has come on and has gone from one of the better runners in Flagstaff to one of the better runners in the state," Painter said. "Every race he just continues to impress me with his fitness right now. He’s just running so strong and taking on other runners that have been faster than him, but now he just runs right with them and finishes right there with them, too.”
Painter said Davis wanted to kick hard for the final mile. The tactic worked, giving him more confidence in his abilities moving forward as the boys crew looks to finish 2019 season with a fifth consecutive Division II state title.
Flagstaff's boys were fierce on Wednesday, with Lance Harris clocking a 15:57.44 for second place, Riley Human hitting 16:14.89 for third and Ryan Hatch ending his day with a time of 16:31.67 for fourth.
“City meet is a big deal for our kids, so they go out and run hard -- this is a race," Painter said. "It’s fun and our schedule doesn’t really allow us to do these small, intimate meets, so it’s just fun, and all these kids know each other. It doesn’t matter what color their jersey is, they know each other and it’s fun to put all the kids out there together.”
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A pack of three Northland Prep Spartans broke up the rest of the Eagles' flock and took second as a team on 49 points. In that pack were Dana Leib-Perry (16:37.85) in fifth, Brandon Bounds (16:52.60) in sixth and Malakai Hanson (17:14.17) in seventh.
But the conditions were not so fantastic this year, as the day was warmer than usual and smoke filled the air. Not to mention -- as is the case most years -- athletes were battling colds and other midseason aches and pains.
Still, Hana Hall showed she's still Flagstaff's No. 1 phenom, winning the city title for the second straight year in as many tries. Although she didn't run quite as fast as she did last year at the event, she finished way out in front, coming up with an 18:18.85 for the gold.
Hall's freshman sister, Mia, took second in 18:45.71, with teammates Allie Thurgood placing third (19:45.30), Anna Harmon fifth (20:00.66) and Brooke Golightly in sixth (20:02.15). Also getting top-10 results for the Flagstaff girls were Breana Biggambler in seventh (20:24.77) and Olivia Schepper in 10th (21:25.06).
The Flagstaff girls are also working to end the season with a fifth straight state title.
“All in all, it was a fantastic day and most of the kids ran great while some had to work through some stuff," Painter said.
The Coconino girls squad, another program on the rise over the past few years, finished second with 55 points, led by a fourth-place finish from freshman Wheaten Smith in 19:54.36 and an eighth-place result from senior Kaelynn Ashley in 20:39.61.
The Basis Flagstaff boys were led by Colm Cawood and his ninth-place finish in 17:33.24. The Yeti finished third as a team with 67 points. Coconino recorded 106 points and was led by Adin Scott's 20th-place finish in 18:37.33 17.
The Northland Prep girls were third with 64 points, with Abby Sperl leading the way for the Spartans in 21:09.77 for ninth in the individual standings. The Basis girls were fourth with 120 points and were led by Camila Hess-Neustadt's 25:09.27 that was good for 44th.