Running is mostly seen as a solitary endeavor.
Step after step it is up to that individual to push away those mind barriers that are screaming for the rest of the body to stop.
Getting past it is difficult, but for a group of Desert Vista runners on Saturday they were running for so much more.
Former Thunder runner Timothy Lupton-Stegall, a Special Olympic competitor who died in July, was represented with his name being brandished on their shoulders, while injured senior runners Carter Macey (leg) and Spencer Clason (concussion) were visible in the crowd and still very much part of the program.
The motivation along with coach Chris Hanson’s competitiveness added to the desire of Desert Vista’s runners and led to a Division I state cross country title.
“I would run this group against anyone when it comes to character,” said Hanson, who guided the Thunder to its fifth state title, the first since 2008. “They could have given in at some point with all we had going on. They didn’t even know Tim, but they understood what he represents and they came through.
“I could not be more proud of this group.”
The Thunder won the meet with 101 points, while Highland (101) and Corona del Sol (147) round out the top three. The Desert Vista girls, who have rarely been healthy this season, finished third behind Xavier (55) and Mesa Mountain View (75) with 105 points.
The Mountain Pointe girls were 18th in Division I, while in the Division IV girls race Horizon Honors junior Mikaela Martin was fifth after finishing as runner-up a year ago.
“I’m mad,” said Martin, who finished in 20:23.08, compared to the 19:54.17 time of last season that came on a different course because of flooding last season. “I didn’t get any better from last year. I came out slow and it was hotter than last year (when the race was earlier in the morning). I didn’t run my best race.”
The day, however, belonged to the Thunder boys after many wrote them off when news of Macey’s injury became public. Not many programs can withstand the loss of its top runner and still come away with the team title.
Desert Vista had great performances from Jacob Walimaa, who finished 10th among scoring runners at 16 minutes and 22.57, Ryan Dykstra (16th, 16:37.51), Alec Hoyt (22nd, 16:52.12), Tyler Bonebright (26th, 16:56.22), and Ryan Smith (27th , 16:57.03).
If any of those guys had slipped up teammates Xavier Esparza (34th, 17:00.34) and Zach Smith (53rd, 17:24.31) ran strong enough to keep the win within the Thunder’s grasp.
“We all came together and ran as one,” Walimma said. “We had our whole team here, in the crowd, and it really helps motivate when you’re hurting.”
Hanson said it can be hard separating the accomplishments from different seasons, but it was clear that this one, with so much more at stake than PRs and trophies, ranks as one of the best.
“Different feelings, different emotions, different days,” Hanson said. “This sport builds character so much and this one ranks up there with anything we’ve accomplished in the past.”
The Thunder girls finished third after being runner-up the last four years so in that respect it can be seen as a step back, but don’t tell that to coach Doug Christofis.
“Those girls ran their hearts out,” he said. “You can tell when a group puts its heart and soul into something, and they’re crying right now. They did everything they could. It is that frustration of always wanting to give you more.
”We’ve had some adversity (with injuries throughout the season) and we were able to salvage the season.”
Desert Vista was led by sophomore Dani Jones, who finished sixth overall at 19:08.19, and was followed by Jenna Maack (11th, 19:20.60), Alexa Foster (25th, 19:57.39), Brittany Tretbar (31st, 20:06.81), and Emily Smith (32nd, 20:09.37).
The Pride girls had a nice showing at 18th overall after missing out the previous two years as a team.
They were led by Cera Hassinan (45th, 20:40.19) and Francesca Olguin (75th, 21:48.09) in posting a quality overall finish.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.