High school cross country runners have been chasing Nate Rodriguez and his Aztec teammates all over the desert landscape since the season began on Sept. 2, and now their frustration in not being able to catch them has finally come to a close.
Corona del Sol High School ran away from the boys’ competition at the Division I state finals, as the Aztecs capped off an undefeated season to win just their second big-schools team title and Rodriguez put the finishing touches on his final prep season with the individual title. It was the first state title for Rodriguez and it has been 21 years since the Tempe school brought home a team championship.
The Aztecs won this year’s state title in convincing fashion, sweeping the top three spots and placing all five runners in the top 25 to keep defending champion Desert Vista High School from adding a sixth state title to their trophy case. The Thunder finished with 60 points, 12 points behind Corona. Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson took third with 100 points.
Rodriguez completed the 3.1-mile course in 15:29 and was followed across the finish line by teammates Ryan Normand (15:32) and Marcus Wheeler (15:36) for the sweep. Rodriguez and Normand were top runners in the state last year, but the addition of Wheeler, a transfer from Chandler High, took the Corona program over the top and they were favored to win it all even in the pre-season.
They certainly lived up to expectations, winning every event they entered while Rodriguez also turned in a perfect season.
While the Desert Vista boys fell short in their quest for another state title, the girls’ squad did finish the mission – and took down a track & field power in the process. The Thunder wrested the state title from Xavier Prep, which has won it the last six years.
For the Xavier Gators, Desert Vista has proven to be their worst nightmare during the fall sports season. On Saturday, the Desert Vista girls’ swim team broke Xavier’s 14-year reign in that sport.
Desert Vista used a 1-2 sweep by a sister tandem to set up the victory, as Dani Jones took the title with an 18:00 finish, and her sister, Baylee, slid in right behind her with a runner-up time of 18:10.
The match-up between the two schools was the featured element to this year’s state finals. Just 10 points separated Desert Vista (60) from Xavier (70), but third-place Mountain View High (Mesa) was well back with 145 points.
And this year the Thunder had the depth they needed to win a state title, as all five runners were among the top 21 finishers.
The additional twist to this success story, however, didn’t include the runners. Desert Vista’s new coach, Jeff Messer, came over this year from Xavier.
But, here’s the real kicker… the Jones sisters will be around another year to try to keep Xavier from re-starting its string of state titles. Dani is a junior and Baylee is a freshman.
(Photo: az.milesplit.com/ Margot Kelly)