Though team and individual championships may be a bit out of reach this weekend, Northwest Valley cross country runners have something to shoot for.
Every top runner in Arizona will be at the state championship meet Saturday at Cave Creek Golf Course, 15202 N. 19th Ave., in Phoenix. Competition begins at 9 a.m. with the boys 4A-I meet, and the last race with local participants is the 5A-II boys race — scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m.
Teams and individuals to watch include:
Mountain Ridge’s boys squad enters the state meet with momentum, after dominating Boulder Creek and Sandra Day O’Connor to win the Northwest Region meet Saturday. Kyle Marshall (second place), Cameron Sullivan (third) and Michael Wagner (fourth) paced the Mountain Lions, who weren’t even at full strength.
Sullivan, who finished sixth in 5A-I in 2008, was sick and did not run his best. Karl Peterson, Mountain Ridge’s No. 4 runner, was in worse shape because of a cold and fell to 20th.
“We did extremely well at regionals,” said Mountain Ridge coach Don Tate. “Hopefully, everybody will be over the head colds by Saturday. If they are, we should finish well.”
To Tate, finishing well would mean a top five result for the team, and placing two or three individuals in the top 15.
“I think the favorites are (Mesa) Mountain View and (Phoenix) Alhambra,” Tate said. “If one of those teams slips up, us, (Phoenix) Brophy or (Phoenix) Desert Vista can make a charge at them.”
The Mountain Ridge girls finished third in the region begind Sandra Day O’Connor and Boulder Creek. Sophomore Victoria Fernandez claimed third place.
The young girls squad has been rebuilding this year, since the Nguyen sisters, Nathalie and Stefanie, transferred to O’Connor. Fernandez, 20th at state as a freshman, is the brightest hope. Tate said she could finish in the 10-15 range this year.
“She’s improved dramatically in her times on our home course this year,” Tate said. “We’re real excited about her being able to place high at state.”
Deer Valley junior Josh Espinoza looks to keep climbing the ladder to a title. He finished ninth as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore.
Tucson Ironwood Ridge senior Steve Magnusson — who signed with the University of North Carolina — is the favorite. Espinoza, along with Tucson Rincon’s Ochor Odol and Phoenix Camelback’s Eric Zuza, are among the top contenders.
“Those are they guys I always look out for,” Espinoza said. “It’s good to go against them because it pushes me and shows what level I’m at with them.”
Centennial’s girls team is the deepest local 5A-II squad. The Coyotes captured the Desert West Region title Saturday, led by sisters Kate (second Place) and Emily (third) Vanderzee.
Ironwood Ridge, Phoenix Pinnacle and O’Connor are among the best teams on the girls side.
Sunrise Mountain is set up to be the most serious local title threat, with a solid chance to be in the top five of the boys and girls team and individual events.
The girls team swept past the West Valley Regional competition Saturday, nabbing the top four places. Marion Cambrelin (first), Brittany Olson (second), Mikaela Armenta (third) and Madeline Sharp led the Mustangs, who also showcased their depth.
“I was pleasantly surprised that all of our girls placed in the top 15,” Sunrise Mountain girls coach Genna Laird said.
Cave Creek Cactus Shadows, Tucson Sabino and Scottsdale Saguaro are top contenders in the race along with Sunrise Mountain.
Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain narrowly edged out Sunrise Mountain’s boys for the region title, which isn’t necessarily a bad sign for the Mustangs state title hopes.
“Bradshaw’s one of the teams that’s favored to be at or near the top in state,” said Sunrise Mountain boys coach Torrin Lattie.
Bradshaw also has Jesus Escalera, one of the best runners in 4A-I. Escalera is part of the top group chasing favorite Sherod Hardt of Queen Creek, as is Sunrise junior Brandon Kocmoud.
Lattie said Kocmoud is ticketed, at the very least, for the top 10. He hopes the rest of the team, particularly Nicholas Hogan, Tyler Ryan and Bradley Rodgers, will continue to keep close to Kocmoud.
“There are five to 10 guys in there at the top group, so he could finish anywhere in there,” Lattie said. “In the last few meets, wherever Brandon’s been, our other top runners haven’t been far behind.”
Seniors Devon and Derrick Adams lead Cactus’ boys team into the state meet. Devon (seventh) and Derrick (eighth) were the top runners on a Cobra squad that finished second to Greenway at the Black Canyon Region meet.
The Cactus girls came in third, behind Greenway and Thunderbird. Senior Chelsea Merrell placed fifth in the region.
But Liberty is the team with the best shot of making noise at state. Both the boys and girls teams cruised to Skyline Region titles, placed all seven runners in the top 15 of the meet Saturday.
Junior Zach Bredeson won the boys race, junior Maxx Roberts finished second and senior Jordan Duncan was fourth. The team, however, will go up against powerhouse programs from the north (Cottonwood Mingus and Flagstaff) and south (Rio Rico and Tucson Catalina).
Liberty coach Mark Rituper said Bredeson has a decent shot of finishing in the top 30 of this loaded field. Defending champion Brian Shrader of Flagstaff Sinagua is the heavy favorite.
The prospects are better for Liberty’s girls, though Rio Rico and Flagstaff again field dominant teams. Liberty swept the region meet, with junior Ashley Kealamakia finishing first, sophomore Nysa Swanson coming in second and freshman Jenny Rolph nabbing third.
Rio Rico junior Aeoleone Bristow is back to defend her state title. Rituper said his best trio shouldn’t be far behind.
“I think the girls have a decent shot of placing in the top five teams,” he said. “Individually my girls top three should all be in the top 20, I hope.”