Maricopa High School boys' cross country team starts in the State Championship race. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School cross country team qualified for the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Cross Country Meet for the first time since 2011 to cap off a record-setting year.

“These kids have put in everything this season,” assistant coach Alec Fillmore said. “From workouts to easy runs to longs runs, every one of them has put their heart and soul into this season.”

On the girls’ side, senior Jada Wright, in her first year running cross country, broke the school record for the girls’ 5,000-meter run. Her time of 20:41.9 at the Section II Championship bypassed the previous record set by Jessica Beach in 2011 by nearly 10 seconds.

Wright, who was the only senior on the girls’ team this year, led the squad with her skill and competitive spirit. She, along with a vastly improved group of runners, shocked many teams by qualifying for their first appearance at the state meet in over five years. The team finished 32nd overall, but Wright suffered an injury during the race and had to withdraw.

On the boys’ side, senior Raven Shaw ran Maricopa High School’s second fastest time ever when he ran a team best 16:47 during the East Valley Championships in October. Joining Shaw in the record book was junior team captain John Blodgett and sophomore Sam Coles who ran the seventh (17:15) and eighth (17:17) fastest times in school history.

Shaw, Blodgett and Coles played a large role in the boys’ team qualifying for the state meet for the first time since 2011. The top three runners ran as a pack and led the team to 23rd place overall, the team’s best finish in four years.

“This team is different from years past in the fact that they’re really dedicated to the sport,” MHS cross country head coach Heather Abel said. “We have more runners, we have [faster] runners and they’ve really bonded well as a team. They love running and they don’t want [the season] it to end.”

The 2015 MHS cross country team may have just scratched the surface of their talents. The Rams will lose their fastest runner on each side, but they’ll still lose just four total runners overall.

“We’re going to give the kids some time off after a long season,” Fillmore said. “We’ve worked from the summer until now, so we’ll get into winter training and go into track. From there, we’ll work into the next season of cross country.”