When it comes to high school cross country in and around the Flagstaff area, the talk is of legacy.
The Flagstaff Eagles girls program has won 12 state team titles since the 2000 season. The Northland Prep Spartans boys program became the reigning champions in their division after ending Hopi's 27-year stretch of owning the crown. Looking to make history this season, the Page Sand Devils boys made it four straight championships last season and have been on a path to make it five for the first time in school history.
Flagstaff, Northland Prep and Page will be joined Saturday by the Coconino Panthers and Basis Flagstaff Yeti in looking to finish the year strong at the state meet.
Here's a look at each of the teams heading to the Cave Creek Golf Course for Saturday's big runs:
Both the boys and girls teams are looking to increase their win streak of state titles to four straight on Saturday, using a mix of new and seasoned runners to try to bring home the hardware once again.
The girls team, which finished outside the top two just once since 2000 on a third-place finish in 2010, has been led all season by the combination of a new face and a familiar force. Junior transfer Hana Hall takes the state's fifth-best time and best Division II 5,000-meter time of 17:37.6 into Saturday, with fellow junior Brianna White entering with the division's sixth-best time of 18:42.5.
Hall and White will be joined by sophomore Katrina Vollmer, junior Anna Harmon, freshman Breana Biggambler, junior Sydney Marston and senior Grace Walker. Vollmer and Harmon also have top 20 D-II times.
White and Vollmer were on last year's squad, which graduated five from the champ class. White was the first of the crew to cross the state meet finish line last year with a time of 19:23 for fifth place overall, and Vollmer finished fourth for the team and 13th overall at 20:07.
Hall should help fill in some of the spaces left open from a year ago. She has had fun doing so during the regular season while racking up wins, including first place at the Four Corners Invitational, Flagstaff City Championship Meet and sectionals.
Eagles head coach Trina Painter said because Hall is new to the team, it's been fun having an athlete who has limited expectations due to facing so many new experiences.
“It’s really fun for her to be a part of this and she said it’s just awesome," Painter said.
The last time a Flagstaff girl won an individual state title was in 2015, when Courtney Lewis earned gold in 18:36.
Painter said both sides are downplaying the team's history and are focusing on taking the success they've had all season into Saturday to try to outpace some tough teams.
“We know the competition is fierce this year at the state meet," Painter said. "There are a couple of schools that moved down into our division and couple that have just really improved from last year, so it’s going to be a battle at every step and every point. When you look at the individual athletes and their time spreads over the entire season, I think it’s going to be a very competitive race on both sides.”
Unlike their counterparts, the Flagstaff boys have never won four straight titles. But they have a few members of this year's seven to help them reach the feat.
The boys side for the Eagles will be made up of sophomore Max Davis, junior Riley Human, senior Nate Milton, junior Gabrial Harju, senior Alan Hagerman, junior Zac Joyce and freshman Ryan Hatch. Milton, Joyce and Human ran for the team last season in states, while Joyce ran it when he was a freshman. Davis takes a strong time of 15:48.2 to states, the No. 8 time in D-II. He and his teammates have run a tight pack all season, with Milton, Human, Joyce and Hagerman all in possession of top 25 D-II times.
Painter said both of her squads have a mix of runners that can either take an early lead and hold on, or hold their pace and make a burst toward the end of the race.
“As long as they are within striking distance from each other, they’ll be pretty confident," Painter said of her boys.
NORTHLAND PREP SPARTANS
The Northland Prep boys want everyone to know that the Great Blue Wave is back and ready to repeat as state champs for the first time since the Spartans went back-to-back in 2004-05 while competing as a Class 1A program.
A year ago, the Spartans scored 57 points and knocked off Hopi, which registered 68 points for a runner-up result. Both teams returned a bulk of last year's runners, setting up an enticing rematch on Saturday.
The Spartans seven will consist of senior Micah Stanton, junior Brandon Bounds, junior Hayden Andersen, senior Nalzheii Lonetree, senior Sailor Starcher, sophomore Dana Leib-Perry and freshman Malakai Hanson. Only Leib-Perry and Hanson were not on the title-winning team last year.
Northland Prep's first to cross the line last year and finish fourth overall at 17:01, Bounds takes the team's best time to the Cave Creek course at 16:17.1, the third-best time at the D-IV level. Stanton, who had a stellar senior season, is in the very next slot below at 16:19.3. In fact, Andersen, Leib-Perry and Starcher all have top 25 D-IV times.
Hopi, meanwhile, only has two runners who have posted top 25 D-IV times this season despite the team running the same Desert Twilight course on which the Spartans boys recorded their bests.
Stanton shaved about a minute on average off his times for this season compared to last and he's made his mark in some big races. The upperclassman won the Peaks invite and the city meet. He also took the top spot of the podium at the section meet, edging out Hopi senior Jihad Nodman.
"He showed great tenacity, and he controlled and managed the race from start to finish – which was just beautiful to watch," Spartans head coach Missy Acker said of Stanton's performance at the sectionals.
Acker said Stanton "got the bug" after winning the state title and really started logging the training miles as he realized the importance of putting in more work.
The Northland Prep girls side, also coming off a title-winning year, will be represented by a large group of young runners. Seniors Kate Bailey and Maya Guthrie make up part of the state seven, with junior Claire Gibson along for the ride. It's all freshmen from there, as Audrey Gillenwater, Abby Sperl, Mo Cooney and Dena Pappas will all get their first taste of a state race.
Bailey and Gibson were on last year's state squad. This season, however, the freshmen have given the upperclassmen a run for their money.
Bailey holds the team's top 5000m time at 22:21.8, but Sperl and Cooney are next in order at 22:41.2 and 23:17.31 respectively, with each of the young runners' times being set on Friday at the section meet.
"They are just running to get some experience and have a good time at the state meet," Acker said.
PAGE SAND DEVILS
After placing seven runners in the top 10 of the D-III, Section Four race in Holbrook, the Sand Devils boys team is looking to build on its run of four straight team titles on Saturday.
The boys were 69 points better than second-place Prescott at sectionals.
Leading the Sand Devils pack is Bowen Martin, who holds the second-best time statewide. The 15:09.9 he ran at the Nike Desert Twilight XC Festival -- a historically fast course and a meet where Page had eight boys and five girls runners record season bests -- in late September is 17 seconds behind Leo Daschbach of Highland.
Sand Devils head coach Tim Martin said Bowen Martin, Rex Martin, Morgan Fowler, Trent Holiday, Skyler Sandoval, Lance Harris and Kaipo Uejo will represent the boys team at the state meet.
On the other side, the Sand Devils girls squad finished second at sectionals, with 10 points separating them and Prescott’s team. Page had four in the top 20, led by Sofia Bryan in sixth place with her time of 20:42.5. The Sand Devils girls team last won the title in 2015.
Bryan, Miquedah Taliman, Mikala Benally, Nahaniya Fowler, Kodi Tate, Jaddah Whitehair and Ashlynn Adiaki will run for the Sand Devils on the girls side.
Coconino has been on the brink of winning a championship on the girls side the past two years.
A junior-laden lineup came away with a runner-up result in the D-III girls race a year ago, falling just short of a title despite three of its runners finishing in the top 25. The 2017 squad scored 108 points, with Ganado getting the gold at 101 points. And in 2016, the Panthers came up just short again with a second-place turnout.
Both years Woodlyn Smith led the way at the state meet with a seventh-place finish in 2017 and a 15th-place finish in 2016. Now Smith is a senior and has one last shot at trying to lift her team over the hump.
Smith took third place at the section meet, helping her team finish first, and the 18:54.2 that she clocked at the Desert Twilight meet put her at No. 6 in the best D-III times.
The group of five that helped the Panthers take silver in 2016 is still intact and will need to step up to try to earn the elusive title.
Hope Saxton, Lilia Tassinari, Kaelynn Ashley and Jordan Brockman, along with Smith, have all been running for a state title together since 2016.
"This year they are feeling it -- they are so ready and focused and just trying to hone in on that they can do it," said Panthers head coach Shannon Taylor, adding that her teams have been racing at lower elevations in order to prepare for the heat of Saturday's state race.
Kailani Charlie, who was with Coconino at the state meet last season, was with the Panthers at the section race, as was Soma Freeman.
Meanwhile, the boys team will look to crack the top 5 after taking a dip from a seventh-place finish at states in 2016 to ninth in 2017.
The young Panthers boys team was represented at the section run by seniors Taylor Taliman, Sean Malone and Elijah Schmadel, freshmen Mitchell Jacobson, Adin Scott and Matthew Reber, and sophomore Cameron Toothaker-Lopez.
Even though the boys are only returning a couple of runners, Taylor said they've all been stepping up their game to do well come Saturday.
BASIS FLAGSTAFF YETI
Tucker Grams has been helping the Yeti boys team continue to develop over the years, and he's even assisting the new head coach of the program.
“Tucker will be the one filling me in because he’s been there before," said first-year Yeti head coach Colin Schultz of the upcoming state meet.
Grams ended his state meet in 52nd place last year, helping his team improve from an 18th-place finish when he was a freshman in 2016 to a 14th-place finish in 2017. At this year's D-IV, Section Three race, he took 15th, crossing the finish line nine places ahead of his 2017 performance in 18:04.96, and the Basis boys were fifth as a team.
"Tucker has shown a lot of maturity in his racing, especially at sectionals," Schultz said. "He really toned back that first mile, not getting cut out with that lead pack and then finishing really strong.”
Basis Flagstaff seniors Kai Grumbine, Abraham Aruguete, sophomore Noah Smith and freshmen Colm Cawood, Brian Hofstetter and Brady Spinti all ran at sectionals and will be the lineup for states along with Grams.
Basis did not field a girls cross country team this season for the state meet.