The mantra among cross country coaches is that you are only as good as your No. 5 runner.
Further, the more narrow the gap between your first and fifth runners, the better your team will be.
The young Mingus Union boys cross country team is the perfect example of those two truths.
In Saturday’s Four Corners Invitational at Flagstaff’s famed Buffalo Park, Mingus finished 10th among 22 teams in the boys seeded varsity race. The Marauders do not boast a strong front-runner on this year’s squad, but what first-year Coach Justine Sparks does have is a pack of tightly-bunched Mingus runners who shorten the gap between 1 and 5 as well as any team in the state.
“Incredible performance last weekend from the runners.,” said coach Sparks. “Our top 5 ran within 20 seconds of each other, which was more than I could have ever hoped for.”
What’s more, the Mingus runners turned in personal records across the board on the high-altitude 3-mile course.
Frosh standout Jehiah Rogers led the way for the Marauders with a 19:28 clocking for 3 miles. Junior Cody Wager was one place and 1-second behind Rogers while sophomore Lucas Doerksen finished in 61st place among the field of 147 runners in 19:33. Freshmen Riley Bliss and Henry Durnez finished in the 64th and 66th slots with respective times of 19:43 and 19:47.
“Even the 6th and 7th men ran PRs though; John Valentine (sophomore) ran his fastest ever time of 21:34, and Braden Arnold (sophomore) ran a 2-minute PR of 22:36. Our only girl that came, Tiffany Drake, ran over a 4 minute PR this weekend, coming in at 35:57,” said Coach Sparks. “Really great weekend; I’m excited to see how they perform at Desert Twilight weekend after next.”
Sedona-Red Rock finished 17th overall with 457 points. Sedona’s top runner, senior Nathan Hoyer, finished 14th overall in 17:54.
Perennial Northland powerhouse Tuba City won the men’s team title in the seeded varsity race with a low score of 35. Tuba City runners Tristan Antonio and Johnson Farrell swept the first two places with respective times of 16:48 and 17:08.
In the boys elite varsity race, defending state champions Flagstaff High School dominated with a low score of 34, with FHS senior Flynn Fuhrmann claiming individual honors with a 16:11 clocking.
So far, there is no clear dominant runner on the boys side in Arizona as compared to 2016 when Chinle’s Santiago Hardy established himself as the class of the field among state runners.
But in last week’s prestigious 37th annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in California, Campo Verde junior Rylan Stubbs made a strong statement that he could be the runner to beat in 2017. Stubbs recorded a scintillating 14:24 over the Woodbridge 3-mile course to lead a strong Arizona contingent in that race Desert Vista’s Reece Donihi recorded a 14:28 on the same course and Hamilton senior David Nelson ran 14:30as 10 Arizona runners broke the 15-minute barrier on the Woodbridge course.
Over a full 5-kilometer course, Desert Mountain’s Caden Hercules still has the state’s fastest time with a 15:50 clocking.
For Arizona girls, the elite trio of Haley Wolfe from Desert Vista, Morgan Foster from Chandler and Samantha Schadler from Rio Rico continue to dominate.
Wolf, a senior, turned in a scorcher with a 16:21 clocking over 3 miles at Woodbridge last weekend. Sandra Day O’Connor senior Jesselyn Bries also ran strong at Woodbridge, breaking 17 minutes with a time of 16:31.
Schadler, a junior, took over the state lead at 5,000 meters with an 18:10 clocking at the Ojo Rojo Invite. Another junior, Foster of Chandler is undefeated this season with best times of 18:23 for 5K and 17:21 for 3 miles.
Another runner to watch this season is Flagstaff Northland Prep senior Maya Smith who is undefeated and ran an impressive 17:27 high-altitude 3-mile in last weekend’s Four Corners Invitational in Flagstaff.