While the Maricopa High School boys cross country team is starting its season without knowing which state-championship division it will be competing in, the runners and coaches have a clear vision of where they want to finish.
“We want to be first in the region,” Maricopa head coach Duane Anderson said. “We don’t care what region.”
Ronnie Buchanan, who is the head coach of the MHS girls cross country team and who also serves as an assistant for the boys’ squad, expressed a similarly confident outlook for the Rams. “We’re thinking that if the boys put it together by the state championships – where I know they will – they can probably be a top-three team, and possibly even win it,” Buchanan said.
Maricopa’s athletic programs competed at the Class 4A-II level last season and will continue to do so this academic year in team sports such as football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball. But in sports such as cross country that feature individual competitors, things will change starting with this year’s fall season.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association is reducing the number of state-championship classifications this school year for individual sports, including cross country. Team sports, including football, will undergo similar reclassifications and realignments beginning with the 2011-12 academic year.
The changes are taking effect immediately for cross country, which will go from having six state-championship classifications to four. The four new classifications will be referred to as divisions.
The AIA soon will announce its division assignments (as well as section assignments within those divisions) for cross country teams throughout the state. Maricopa appears to be a candidate for placement in either the second-highest or third-highest of the four divisions, based on enrollment.
“No matter how they do it, we want to have one of the better teams in the state,” said Anderson, who is beginning his fifth season as the MHS head coach.
Anderson’s optimism is based upon his team’s performance last year, as well as its roster of returning leaders and promising newcomers.
“The boys have been running 40, 50, 60 miles a week all summer,” Anderson said. “They’ve really been dedicated.”
The Rams are returning four of their top five runners, including their top two from last year’s team that finished eighth in the state in Class 4A-II.
Chris Lessard, now a junior, led the Rams by placing 12th at the 4A-II state meet last year with a time of 17:15.834. During the spring track season, he finished fifth in the state in the 1,600 meters and seventh in the 3,200.
Meanwhile, Lessard’s senior teammate Travis Moore placed 28th at last season’s 4A-II state cross country meet and followed with state-track finishes of 14th in the 1,600 meters and 11th in the 3,200.
“Travis is our senior leader,” Anderson said. “He’s basically leading them this summer.”
Also back for the Rams are seniors Gibran Aguilar (who placed 74th in the state last year) and Edson Robles (who finished 82nd in last season’s state meet).
This year’s returnees are joined by a group of new team members that includes senior Taylor Dyer; juniors John Newman and Juan Acero; and freshman Sky Murcek. In all, 20 runners have been participating in preseason practice.
“We definitely look pretty strong for the season coming up,” Moore said. “We’ve got a few good returnees that are really good. And then we have some new guys that look pretty strong. I think we could actually make a good run towards our goal this year.”
While Moore and his boys cross country teammates are aiming for another impressive finish at the state meet, the Maricopa girls team is looking to build depth this year and make strides as a program.
“Last year we had seven or eight girls, all beginners, basically, except for one of our girls, Sandiin Mitchell, who is a returning senior this year,” said Buchanan, who is starting his first season as head coach of the Maricopa girls cross country team. “I coached her in track, and she definitely works hard and leads the team.”
Mitchell is joined by sophomores Kristin Lintz and Chelsea Gross to form the core of this season’s girls team, which includes 15 runners.
“Overall, we are trying to make progress and get to the regional meet and try to get maybe top five, top six at the regional meet (which will be known this year as the sectional meet),” Buchanan said. “That would be a good start.”
The Maricopa cross country teams are scheduled to begin the season Sept. 1 by competing in a meet hosted by Scottsdale Coronado. Scottsdale Notre Dame and Tempe also will participate.
Photo by Tom Kessler