Saturday's smoke wasn't from the Flagstaff Eagles burning up the Four Corners Invitational Cross Country Meet course.
Flagstaff's boys and girls came away with team victories in the 3-mile elite varsity races at Buffalo Park. The boys, led by Zac Joyce's third-place finish in 16:07.7, got their gold with a stellar 28 points, while the girls, led by an individual title from Hana Hall in 18:27.6, put up 41 points on the way to victory.
The elite races for both genders wrapped up just before the smoke from fires in the surrounding area became a factor. No major issues, however, resulted, although some runners mentioned that the smoke play a role in their times.
The Flagstaff boys ran in an impenetrable pack, taking third through sixth place, between Joyce's time and a 16:16.9 result from sophomore Max Davis.
“When you are running that close together, it can make it hard for other teams to put runners inside of it, and they ran amazing. It was a great day,” said Eagles head coach Trina Painter.
The Northland Prep boys, who scored 67 points, saw Micah Stanton outpace the pack of Eagles. He finished first for his Spartans and second overall with a 16:06.8, trailing only the 15:59.6 time of Conner Nicholas from Desert Oasis.
Alan Hagerman took fourth for the Flagstaff boys in 16:16.3. From there, Nate Milton and Davis took fifth and sixth without barely any space between with the former clocking a 16:16.7. Riley Human just made it inside the top 10 with a 16:41.5.
“The elite races were small, we only had like 10 to 11 teams in that race compared to the seeded varsity," Painter said. "So the kids relaxed a little bit because it wasn’t so crowded, but there was still intense, good competition. It was fun to see them run in this smaller, elite section.”
Brianna White took third overall for the Flagstaff girls, who got a big sixth-place finish from a sophomore to help them beat out runner-up Ganado and its 76 points. Katrina Vollmer, who was a freshman last season as the girls won their third straight Division II state title, crossed the Four Corners finish line in 20:21.8.
Painter praised her two juniors who led the way.
“Brianna and Hana are just fierce competitors and they love to race, and I think that makes it really fun," Painter said. "Not only do they have natural talent, but they have that competitive mindset to where they up for whatever comes out of it.”
A Northland Prep runner who knows about winning state team titles provided the Spartan boys a top-10 time. Brandon Bounds ended his day with an eighth-place finish in 16:23.2.
Saturday was a test of physical and mental strength for the Spartan boys, whose coach had put them through some tough workouts during the practice week. Missy Acker thought her runners would run tired, yet was impressed with how they pushed through the three miles.
“We worked through the race. We ran some hard runs this week because we are keeping our eyes on the prize that’s at the end of the season," said Acker, whose D-IV boys team last year knocked Hopi of its thrown after 27 straight titles.
Some of Acker's elite girls were running their first-ever high school 3-mile race. While Kate Bailey paced the Spartans with her 16th-place finish in 21:50.6, fellow seniors Maya Guthrie and Eleni Pappas debuted for Northland Prep. Guthrie took 36th place in 24:30.6 and Pappas came through in 41st in 25:05.6.
Also, freshmen Audrey Gillenwater, who finished 35th, and Rylee Kellar, who finished 42nd, ran out the course for the fist time as Spartans.
"Cross country is one of those things where you just have to experience the race, and then you take in what's going on and the next race you make some calculations and change things up on pace and all that," Acker said. "It was a good, challenging day for the girls."
Meanwhile, Noami Kelly, a freshman, ran for Basis Flagstaff and hit 35:44 flat, with teammate Taylor Suda trailing closely in 37:38.4 in the girls 3-mile open race. For the Basis Yeti boys, Tucker Grams took 15th on a time of 18:26.7 and teammate Colm Cawood came in 16th on a 18:27.6 in the seeded varsity race, leading their team to a fifth-place result out of 22 teams.