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Micah Stanton

Northland Prep Academy's Micah Stanton is the 2018 Arizona Daily Sun Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

It's time for all the hard work and diligence to pay off for the Division IV Northland Prep track and field program as it begins its stay at the state meet today.

Although the Spartans have a lot of young and inexperienced athletes, and are unbalanced, with the girls side sending twice as many state-bound competitors than the boys, the team has plenty of strengths.

On the girls side, which is sending 18 to Mesa Community College for the big meet that will continue into Saturday, a freshman will be relied on to pile up points for the returning D-IV champions. Sydney Sventek is signed up to compete in four different events possibly -- both on and off the track.

While Sventek is busy with both hurdles distances, the long jump and the 4x400-meter relay squad, senior teammate Eleni Pappas will also have a full plate as she is listed for the 4x400m and 4x100m relays, and the 100m and 200m dashes.

Sventek owns the division's best long jump mark at 17-01, a PR dent she set on Tuesday, April 23, at the Sedona Last Chance invite. A bright spot for the 2018 title-winning Spartans soccer club, she has team-best marks in the 100m (16.50) and 300m (50.46) hurdles as well.

In fact, several players from the girls soccer roster make up the track and field state meet roll call for Northland Prep, including Pappas, Ginger Blodgett and Kiarra Hovis. And sophomore Ana Nicol hails from girls basketball and volleyball.

Spartans head coach Missy Acker said her team's strengths showed in different ways during the course of the season.

“Some are new to track, but willing to try different events and even succeed in them. And, man, they worked hard in a really tough spring season because everything was covered with snow or they were dealing with wind for most of the year," Acker said. "They have great fortitude, sticking around and working through the bad weather.”

Blodgett is a contender in the 3200m, and the girls 4x400m crew has the third-best time in the division.

On the boys side for the Spartans, known for producing standout distance runners, Micah Stanton will look to add more hardware to his successful senior year running long distance. A key piece of the boys cross country team that won a title in the fall, Stanton will chase state championships in the 1600m and 3200m events.

Stanton's teammate Brandon Bounds hopes to be out front by the end of the two races alongside the upperclassman. Sailor Starcher, one of the nine total NPA boys heading to states, is seeking a spot on the podium in the 800m and 3200m.

According to Acker, Stanton's improvements in running have not been limited to cross country, as he has shown growth on the track as well.

Moreover, last season in the 3200m, Stanton didn't break 10 minutes. This year, he did it twice, with his 9:53.14 being a PR.

"He did some really great off-season training and he qualified early and we’ve been keeping him at home to do more track workouts instead of traveling, so I am excited to see how he will do at the state meet,” Acker said.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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