There is no questioning the depth of the cross country programs this year at Highland High School and Desert Vista HS.
The two East Valley schools combined to wrap up all four of the top team finishes in the boys’ and girls’ state tournaments. Desert Vista claimed the boys’ team title, while Highland took runner-up. Highland won the girls’ championship and Desert Vista was runner-up.
On the boys’ side, Desert Vista made its return to the top of the mountain after falling short the last couple of years. The Thunder won five straight cross country state championships before Highland broke the string in 2019 and Brophy Prep took top honors in 2020, the Broncos’ first title win in 17 years..
After finishing runner-up behind the Broncos last year, Desert Vista regained the top spot last weekend behind the strong performance of Noah Judon. The senior finished the course at Cave Creek Golf Course with a time of 16:09.4, good enough to earn the individual title and lead the Thunder to a winning team score of 62 points. Highland was runner-up with a team score of 95.
Gabe Parham was the other Desert Vista runner to place in the top 10, completing the race in 16:20.9 for fourth place. Both Judon and Parham will graduate this year, creating a talent drain for Desert Vista’s attempt at beginning another string of titles.
Wyatt Williams (16:42.8) led all Highland runners in 11th place, just a shade ahead of Andrew Gibby in at 16:43.0 for 12th. Williams, too, will be graduating in the spring.
In the girls’ competition, Highland was finally able to rise above the frustration of coming in second the last two years. The Hawks took second and third places in the individual competition and placed all five runners in the top 12 to accumulate a winning team score of 38 points. Emma Baugh finished second (19:05.2) and Kayla Case crossed the line just off her shoulder in a time of 19:06.7 for third place.
Desert Vista scored 45 for second place as the Thunder placed four runners in the top six.
It was Lauren Ping who finished first in the individual competition while leading the way in Desert Vista’s runner-up finish, just as she has the previous two years. The junior was the individual winner with a time of 17:39.4 to make it three straight titles.
Teammates Katie Sigerud, Emily Littlefield, and Bailee Christofis were bunched together at the finish, with just 13 seconds separating fourth-place Sigerud with sixth-place Christofis.
Last year, it was Sigerud who finished second behind teammate Ping, giving the Thunder a 1-2 punch that led Desert Vista to a 41-point team total for the 2020 win.