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cross country

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All Maricopa High School runners competing in Friday’s Nike Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival, a multi-state meet in Casa Grande, posted personal-best times.

Competing in the large-school category against almost 50 teams, the boys’ team brought eight runners while the girls ran four.

Senior Quinton Stapleton again led the squad, finishing the varsity race 237th out of 329 in the 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). At 19:27.95, he knocked 24 seconds off his best previous time.

Sophomore Tanis Palmer finished 246th in 19:34.94 in his first race, and fellow soph Xavier Rose was 270th in 20:00.00, which was 51 seconds faster than his previous best. Junior Jovanni Fentes was 275th in 20:06.61, nearly three seconds faster than his results in last year’s Twilight. Rounding out the team’s top five, sophomore Gabriel Garcia was 280th in 20:10.50, his best time by 29 seconds.

Sophomore Charles Liermann was 323rd in 22:21.02, more than a minute faster than his best time, and sophomore Nico McKinely was 329th in 26:20.30, improving his time by nearly six minutes. Running in the freshman race, Alex Blodgett was 226th in 23:24.10, better than his previous best by 22 seconds.

Centennial senior Alexander Coyle won the boys’ varsity race in 15:37.5.

Among the girls, MHS senior Zanaa Ramirez knocked her time down to 21:40.9, her first time under 22 minutes, in placing 91st among 320 runners.

Junior Stella Richter was 304th in 26:56.25, about 20 seconds better than her best time. Senior Coryuna Mitchell bettered her time by more than five minutes by finishing 309th in 27:50.08. Junior Francis Trast ran 310th in 27:59.14.

Ralston Valley (Arvada, Colorado) senior Elizabeth Schweiker won the girls’ varsity race in 18:23.47.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School cross country team competed twice at Chandler’s Tumbleweed Regional Park in two weeks.

Senior Zanaa Ramirez earned a medal by finishing in the top 10 at the Chandler Invite Sept. 4. Then on Sept. 14, six Rams ran personal-best times in the Ojo Rojo Invitational in the same park.

The Chandler Invite was divided into grades for the 5K. For the seniors, Ramirez was ninth among the girls in 22:44.66. Coreyuna Mitchell was 39th in 33:11.80. On the boys’ side, Quinton Stapleton finished 47th in 19:52.02.

In the girls’ junior race, Stella Richter was 60th in 27.49.57, Frances Trast was 76th in 33:05.45, and Beatriz Gallardo Avila was 83rd in 38:57.53. For the boys, Jovanni Fentes was 47th in 20:28.30

For the sophomores, Gabriel Garcia was 60th in 20:48.98, Xavier Rose was 78th in 22:04.37, and Charles Liermann was 101st in 24:10.22. For the girls, Anel Kenezhekeyeva was 85th in 1:07:28.66.

Saturday morning, 33 schools competed in the Ojo Rojo , with freshman, varsity and open divisions.

Ramirez reached a personal best in 22:31.8 while finishing 63rd. The two other girls running the varsity race with her also posted their best times yet. Richter was 129th in 27:17.0, and Trast was 138th in 30:33.8. Brynna McQuillen of Vista Grande won the race in 18:41.5.

The boys’ varsity ran a full team and finished 20th overall. Stapleton finished 102nd in 19:59.5. Garcia was 121st in 20:29.9, a personal best. Rose finished 128th in 20:51, also a personal best. Fentes was 149th in 21:31.9. Liermann was 171st in 23:39.2, and Nico McKinley was 184th in 32.32.6. Trent Holiday of Page High School won the race in 16:04.

In the freshman race, Blodgett finished 66th in 23:46.5, a personal best.

Quinton “Q” Stapleton has been the MHS boys’ team leader this season.

Athletic Directors Jake Neill (left) of Maricopa Unified School District and Glen Hale of Sequoia Pathway see changes ahead.

As Maricopa schools dig into their fall sports, much appears the same on the surface, but there could be changes afoot.

It’s not about personnel, though the athletic departments of Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway hired a couple of varsity coaches each. (For MHS it was baseball coach Brad Vericker and boys’ basketball coach Paul Gretkierewicz; for Pathway, football coach Donnie Margerum and boys’ basketball coach George Courtney.)

“The future’s looking like there is going to be a little bit of change because we’re growing so much,” said Jake Neill, Maricopa Unified School District athletic director. “If there’s a change in the next two-year block we could end up being a 6A school. Very good chance of that actually.”

MUSD reports enrollment to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) in October and then is assigned a conference for a two-year block starting the next school year. However, close on the heels of that, is an election in November. If voters agree to a bond to build a second high school for MUSD, it could trigger a change in district athletics down the road.

Neill said he doesn’t even want to think about that until November, and then will wait to see how things fall out. A second school, for instance, might not have sports initially. Even if it does, it could be years away.

“It really depends on the timing of how everything happens,” Neill said. “What we hope to avoid is turning in our numbers and then split schools and be playing a 6A schedule with two schools of 1,500 kids. We can prepare for that and inform the AIA if that should ever happen.”

For now, the fall season is looking comfortably familiar.

“The good thing is there’s nothing new,” Neill said. “There’s a little bit of consistency from last year to this year. We’re still competing in the always tough 5A San Tan region with the likes of Williams Field, Casteel, Campo Verde, Gilbert High. So, we definitely have our challenges with being in probably the most competitive region in the 5A conference again, but for the most part we’re status quo.”

Maricopa High School’s fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, swimming and boys’ and girls’ golf.

He said MHS is building a reputation for having great student-athletes, and programs are improving. Tying into that is creating strong bonds between middle school and high school programs. Neill said a recent change made to junior high scheduling could foster more of that.

MUSD’s middle schools are joining the Signal Peak Athletic Conference, playing mostly schools in the Casa Grande area rather than Queen Creek and Apache Junction.

“It’s going to benefit the program because our parents can get to their kids’ games on time. Our students and our coaches that are teachers aren’t going to be missing as much class time and instruction time,” Neill said. “When you look at middle-school athletics, it’s not supposed to be taxing on the student. Just traveling as much as we were, it was taxing on the student. We want to make sure we set our kids up to succeed.”

It may also make it easier for high school coaches to be involved with the middle school sports, he said.

“It’s an expectation that our varsity coaches are somehow, someway involved in our middle school athletics, and everyone does a good job with that,” Neill said. “Being seen and talking to kids. Just creating that connection with kids and getting them excited to be a Ram and come to MHS and maybe future high school No. 2.”

At Pathway, which enrolls about 275 high schoolers, Athletic Director Glen Hale also expects his varsity coaches to maintain a strong link to the junior high. That includes instilling this year’s motto, “Expect great things.”

“It encompasses life,” he said. “If they come to practice, if they’re on time, if they work hard, they can expect great things to happen. Grade-wise, if they’re in the classroom and they’re making their grades and doing their homework and they’re working hard, they can expect great things to happen.”

He said that starts with the coaches working hard and doing their jobs, modeling their behavior they want to see in the student-athletes.

“Each coach, as we go to the next level, is going to sacrifice things so we can get better,” Hale said.

The “next level” could mean a change if Hale gets his way. He intends to apply to join the AIA. Pathway is currently in the Canyon Athletic Association, comprised of charter schools.

“We basically want our kids to play higher competition,” he said. “The CAA is really good, but everybody knows the AIA.”

If accepted, it would mean a big shift for the athletes, who would be facing completely new competition. Having watched the kids face AIA teams during summer competitions, Hale said it could help them grow. He also looks forward to adding girls’ soccer to the array of high school offerings.

“We’re homing in on academics, we’re homing in on character, we’re homing in on serving our community and playing at the next level.”

See the upcoming September issue of InMaricopa for more on this year’s teams.

MHS Varsity Football
W 33-22               at McClintock
Aug. 30                7 p.m. vs. Millennium
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. Apollo
Sept. 13                7 p.m. vs. South Mountain (Homecoming)
Sept. 20                7 p.m. at Central
Sept. 27                7 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. vs. Williams Field (Senior Night)
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at Casteel
Nov. 1                   7 p.m. at Gilbert

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Football
Aug. 30                7 p.m. vs. Canyon State Academy
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. South Pointe
Sept. 19                6:15 p.m. at Canyon State Academy
Sept. 27                7 p.m. vs. San Tan Charter
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs ASU Prep
Oct. 11                  7 p.m. at South Pointe
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. at San Tan Charter
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at ASU Prep

MHS Varsity Volleyball
Sept. 3                  6 p.m. at Camelback
Sept. 4                  6 p.m. vs. Fairfax
Sept. 5                  6 p.m. vs. Verrado
Sept. 10                6 p.m. at Paradise Valley
Sept. 12                6 p.m. vs. North Canyon
Sept. 16                6 p.m. at Campo Verde
Sept. 17                6 p.m. vs. Ironwood
Sept. 24                6 p.m. at Williams Field
Sept. 25                6 p.m. at Centennial
Sept. 26                6 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 1                    6 p.m. vs. Casteel
Oct. 3                    6 p.m. vs. Gilbert
Oct. 15                  6 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 17                  6 p.m. vs. Williams Field
Oct. 22                  6 p.m. vs. Higley (Senior Night)
Oct. 24                  6 p.m. at Casteel
Oct. 29                  6 p.m. at Gilbert

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Volleyball
W, 3-0                  vs. Basis-Peoria
W, 3-0                  at Basis-Chandler
W, 3-0                  vs. Phoenix College Prep
Sept. 3                  6 p.m. vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 5                  7 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 11                5:30 p.m. at Sequoia Charter
Sept. 12                7 p.m. vs. Mission Heights
Sept. 17                4 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 19                7 p.m. vs. EVAC
Sept. 24                6:30 p.m. at Mission Heights
Sept. 26                7 p.m. vs. Heritage-Mesa
Oct. 1                    4 p.m. at South Ridge
Oct. 3                    7 p.m. vs. Desert Heights

MHS Swimming
Sept. 5                  4 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 12                4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Sept. 24                4 p.m.                   at Saguaro
Oct. 3                    4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 10                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 17                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 23                  9:30 a.m.             at Apache Junction
Nov. 2-3               TBA                        State Championship

MHS Cross Country
Sept. 4                  4:30 p.m.             at Vista Grande
Sept. 7                  7 a.m.                    at Chandler Invite
Sept. 14                7 a.m.                    at Fountain Hills Invitational
Sept. 14                7:30 a.m.             at Ojo Rojo Invitational
Sept. 27                TBA                        Nike Desert Twilight
Oct. 12                  TBA                        O’Connor Invitational
Oct. 26                  TBA                        Eye of the Tiger Invite
Nov. 8                   TBA                        State Sectionals

Sequoia Pathway Boys’ Soccer
Aug. 29                6 p.m.                   vs. Imagine Prep-Coolidge
Aug. 30                5 p.m.                   at Basis-S
Sept. 2                  5 p.m.                   vs. Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 5                  4:30 p.m.             at Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 11                6:15 p.m.             at BASIS-Chandler
Sept. 23                4 p.m.                   vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 25                4 p.m.                   vs. Sequoia Charter
Oct. 1                    4 p.m.                   vs. Canyon State
Oct. 15                  4:30 p.m.             at ASU Prep Polytechnic

MHS Boys’ Golf
Aug. 22                 3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Aug. 27                 2 p.m.                   at Ken McDonald Golf Course
Sept. 3                  2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Sept. 10                3:30 p.m.             at Arcadia
Sept. 12                3:30 p.m.             at Tempe
Sept. 17                3 p.m.                   at Westwood
Sept. 24                3:30 p.m.             at Ocotillo Golf Course
Oct. 1                    2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Oct. 15                  3 p.m.                   at McCormick Ranch Golf Course

MHS Girls’ Golf (Developmental)
Sept. 4                  3 p.m.                   at Western Skies Golf Club
Sept. 12                3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Sept. 16                2 p.m.                   at Marcos de Niza
Sept. 18                3 p.m.                   at Granite Falls South Course
Sept. 25                3 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 30                3 p.m.                   at Apache Creek Golf Course
Oct. 2                    2 p.m.                   at The Duke at Rancho El Dorado
Oct. 4                    1 p.m.                   at Girls Golf Developmental Invitational – Encanto 9


Cross country and track volunteer coach Manuel Quintana works with head coach Heather Abel at Maricopa High School. Photo by Victor Moreno

By Joycelyn Cabrera

At 68 years old, volunteer cross-country coach Manuel Quintana has an unusual nickname around the Maricopa High School campus.

The students refer to him as “Grandpa” or “Coach Grandpa.” Quintana said the students have called him Grandpa for many years, ever since he began coaching his granddaughter, who called him “Tata,” a Spanish term of endearment for grandfathers. Once he told students, “Tata means Grandpa,” the nickname spread.

Quintana has volunteered as a coach at MHS for more than a decade. Originally from Mesa, Quintana graduated from Westwood High School and attended Mesa Community College before transferring to ASU. Quintana left the university to pursue a mechanics apprenticeship and stayed in the field 25 years. Quintana moved to Maricopa in 1978 and worked as a mechanic before beginning a new “career” as a volunteer coach.

Quintana began working with the MHS cross-country team after he realized he enjoyed coaching his granddaughter, a former student. He became involved with the Rams’ sports program simply because he liked working with the students and watching them improve. Quintana has helped student-athletes progress from running a half-mile to nearly three miles mid-season.

For five years, Quintana has worked with head coach Heather Abel, who doubles as an MHS teacher. Abel regards him as someone who “has been a real positive influence with the kids.”

“He really knows his stuff. He loves it. Everybody knows who he is,” she said.

The student-athletes themselves adore their coach, feeling positive about their progress individually and as a team.

“We work hard,” senior Megan Carr said. “It’s definitely a mental sport; it’s difficult, but it’s worth it.”

Quintana hopes his teaching and coaching will result in constant improvement for the students, passing on the knowledge of previous coaches like Duane Anderson and Ronnie Buchanan.

And being called Grandpa? Quintana feels good about the nickname: “It shows they have a lot of respect.”

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

MHS volleyball team at Mesquite for play-in. Photo by Jennifer Ford.

Except for one athlete, Maricopa High School wrapped up its fall sports season last week.

Evelyn Corliss, a sophomore runner on the cross country team, ran a personal best 21:37 in the 5K at the Division II Section IV meet Friday. She finished 15th, which qualified her for the Arizona State Championships, which are Nov. 4 at Cave Creek Golf Course. The top 25 runners in each section advanced along with the qualified teams.

“She ran her heart out,” coach Heather Abel said. “She really deserves it.”

Senior Alondra Borbolla Gonzalez finished 27th in 22:36. Freshman Alyssa Frarck was 69th in 25:39. Sophomore Juni Hall was 74th in 26:42. Freshman Kaitlyn Crean was 84th in 30:07, and junior Hayley Mase was 85th in 30:29. Among the boys, junior Alec Kramarczyk was team leader in 31st place in 18:27. Senior Chet Carroll, who won the Maricopa Mud Run the following day, ran 70th in 20:01. Freshman Jovanni Fentes was 79th in 20:53. Sophomore Carlos Chavez ran a personal best 20:55 to finish 80th. Junior Diego Riva was 84th in 21:48. Junior Orion Martin was 91st in 23:19. Senior Gio Hernandez was 92nd in 23:20.

Thursday, the volleyball team, ranked 20th in 5A, competed in a play-in game for a chance to qualify for the state tournament. The Rams fell to No. 13 Mesquite in three, 25-14, 25-18, 25-18. That ended their season with an official overall record of 12-7 and second place in 5A Metro.

Friday, the MHS football team ended its season at home by defeating McClintock in a down-to-the-wire contest. This season, junior Tylen Coleman led all of 5A in sacks with 12, a total was 10th across all divisions in the state. Junior Jacob Cowing was second in 5A overall and first in 5A Metro in receiving yards with 1,081. Senior Alec Smith was third in 5A Metro in passing yards with 1,632, which was 10th in 5A overall. A running quarterback, he had 2,030 total yards. Senior Kemo Akins was third in 5A Metro in rushing yards with 1,040, 17th in all of 5A.


Maricopa senior Geo Hernandez strides out early in the boys' competition at Chandler to start the cross country season. Photo by Mason Callejas

Cross country runners had a tough 2017 season opener in Chandler on Wednesday as temperatures reached up to around 109 in the afternoon.

Nevertheless, several Maricopa High School Rams runners finished strong at a five-way meet at Tumbleweed Park with members of both the girls’ and boys’ teams finishing in the top 10 of their respective races.

The lady Rams had two runners finish in the top 10. Sophomore Evelyn Corliss came in second with a time of 23:22, and senior Megan Carr was ninth with a time of 25:36.

Overall, the girls finished fourth at the meet with 76 points, running against the American Leadership Academy (38), Skyline (52), Combs (82), and Seton (no score).

The gentleman Rams, coming off a state-qualifying season, had only one runner come in with the top 10. Junior Alec Kramarczyk finished seventh in 19:29. The next MHS runner, senior Chet Carroll, came in 16th with a time of 21:01.

The heat and the intensity of the first race did get to one MHS runner. Senior Caleb Wilson pushed through a severe cramp toward the end of the race finishing 44th out of 56 with a time of 25:15.

Wilson collapsed shortly after crossing the finish line and was treated by emergency personnel for symptoms related to the heat.

Cross country coach Heather Abel said the situation was likely a “combination of the heat and not breathing correctly.”

Abel also said running in these hot temperatures can prove trying. However, she knows most of her runners are aware of the dangers and run accordingly.

Some of the times aren’t what Abel was hoping for out of the race. But, she said, “it’s only the beginning.”

The boys also finished fourth, scoring 95 points against Seton (37), ALA (42), Combs (82) and Skyline (98).

Her girls’ squad has six new runners this year, but Abel isn’t too worried about the fresh faces. Corliss is one such fresh face and by finishing second in the season opener, Abel said, she has high hopes for the rest of the season.

Though there is always room for improvement, Corliss, personifies the ideal student athlete, the coach said.

“She’s just one of those who never really says anything, never complains, she just kind of does it,” Abel said.

The boys are also showing their competitive nature, she said, with several of them vying for the top five positions.

“It’s going to be a really interesting year for the boys,” She said. “There’s just something with the boys where they push together, they work together, and they absolutely understand what it takes to get to state and what it takes to win dual meets.”

The Rams will return to Tumbleweed Park Sept. 2 at 7 a.m. for their next meet, the Chandler Invite.


MHS Roster
Evelyn Corliss
Megan Carr
Alondra Borbolla Gonzalez
Alyssa Frarck
Evelyn Young
Juni Hall
Dylan Hill
Kaitlyn Crean
Hayley Mase

Alec Kramarczyk
Gio Hernandez
Chet Carroll
Carlos Chavez
Brady Hunsaker
Orion Martin
Caleb Wilson
Alex Lopez Perez
Diego Riva
Vlad Patrenko
Jovanni Fentes
Quinton Stapleton

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Maricopa junior Jesse Gaines (front center) leads the Rams in a rapid start at the Division II State Cross Country Championship. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School’s boys’ cross country team finished 24th in the state championships Saturday.

Amid 31 Division II teams on a hot day at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix, the Rams were swallowed up in a shockingly fast start. Maricopa ran seven runners in the 5-kilometer race, with the top five scoring points for the team.

Junior Jesse Gaines led the Rams by finishing 50th in a field of 228 runners on a difficult course.

It was not a day for personal best times. Gaines clocked in at 17:36, his fourth fastest result of the season.

Sophomore Alec Kramarczyk was again the No. 2 runner for Maricopa, finished 114th in 18:26. Senior John Blodgett ran 131st in 18:36.

Junior Sam Coles ran 153rd in 18:59. Senior Mark Mwangi, like Blodgett finishing his high school cross country career, was 161st in 19:06.

Also running were Brady Hunsaker, a junior who finished 218th in 21:15, and junior Giovanni Hernandez, who was 224th in 21:36.

Three teams were packed tight at the top of the leader board. Flagstaff High School won Division II, with a combined time of 1:24.10. Campo Verde was second and Buena third.

The individual champion was Buena senior Manuel Olivo-Quinones, who won easily in a blistering 15:41.

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MHS junior Jesse Gaines led the team by finishing fourth in the sectional. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With one of their top runners sidelined and a team leader ailing, the Maricopa Rams’ goal of returning to the state cross country championships looked bleak Friday afternoon.

Boys’ State Qualifiers Division II Section IV
Campo Verde 25
Mesquite 102
Queen Creek 111
McClintock 124
Maricopa 142
Chaparral 152
Arcadia 185

But a sophomore stepped up in a big way to help Maricopa to a fifth-place finish in the Division II Section IV competition. The boys will run in the state meet on Saturday.

The Maricopa boys’ team has been very competitive all season. Friday, however, senior Sam Coles was absent and senior John Blodgett was under the weather.

Coming into the meet, sophomore Alec Kramarczyk’s best time in the 3.1-mile race was 18 minutes flat at the Nike Desert Twilight on Sept. 30, when he finished 71st. Friday, Kramarczyk made himself Maricopa’s No. 2 runner by placing 13th and posting a personal-best time of 17:47.

Kramarczyk, whose father Jeff owns Crate Coffee, smiled wide when he said it was the coffee that gave him the surprise boost. He was the only Maricopa runner to set a personal record (PR) Friday. Now he wants to “have fun” at the state meet.

“I want to get my time down to the 16s,” he said.

At sectionals, the top seven teams and the top 25 individuals qualified for the state championship. Fourteen boys’ teams competed.

Sophomore Alec Kramarczyk ran a personal record in Friday's 5K to finish 13th overall and second on the team. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Sophomore Alec Kramarczyk ran a personal record in Friday’s 5K to finish 13th overall and second on the team. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa junior Jesse Gaines again was the team’s top runner. He finished fourth in 17:23. His best time in the 5K is 17:15.

Blodgett also qualified individually despite not having his best race. He finished 20th in 18:14, nearly a minute off his personal best time set last season. He has been a vocal team leader, however, in setting high goals for the Rams.

“I’m pretty stoked,” Blodgett said, “especially after we did it last year and tried to do it again this year. I’m going to try to PR in my last race ever in cross country.”

Senior Mark Mwangi scored points for the Rams by finishing 37th in 17:51. Junior Giovanni Hernandez was the No. 5 runner in 68th place in 20:36.

Also in the field, junior Brady Hunsaker finished 76th (20:46) and Caleb Wilson 88th (22:27).

Coach Heather Abel said Coles will return to the team this week and compete in the state meet. He previously set a qualifying time of 17:46.3 at the Nike Desert Twilight.

Campo Verde easily won the boys’ meet with 25 points. It had five runners in the top 10, led by the outstanding sophomore Rylan Stubbs (he has run under 16 minutes three times this season).

The Maricopa girls finished last in their team competition. Junior Megan Carr was the Rams’ top runner. She finished in 57st place. Senior Aisawan Chanproprah was 68th.

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The Maricopa boys cross country meet did not have to travel far for Wednesday's meet.

It’s been a while since Maricopa High School has been able to host a cross country meet. Three years, in fact. So a three-team dual meet at Copper Sky Regional Park on Wednesday was a small victory by itself.

It was a bit of a warm-up for Friday night’s scheduled Nike Desert Twilight meet in Casa Grande. It also allowed them to go nearly one-on-one with a very good Mesquite High School team. Coronado High School also sent runners but not enough for a team score.

With most of the Rams runners well off their best times of the season, Maricopa finished second in both the boys’ and the girls’ competition at Copper Sky.

Junior Jesse Gaines finished the 5K course fifth behind four Mesquite runners in 18:47. Senior John Blodgett was right behind him in 18:49. Junior Sam Coles was seventh in 19:03.

Sophomore Alec Kramarczyk and senior Mark Mwangi filled the top five spots for Maricopa in ninth and 10th place.

In the much smaller field of girls, junior Megan Carr led the Rams with a fifth place finish in 24.21. Senior Aisawan Chanpropah was seventh in 28:17, followed by senior Tori Martin, Evelyn Young, freshman Juni Hall and Alexandra Mask in order.

Coach Heather Abel said the boys’ team has had a strong season, winning their dual meets and posting personal best times in the big invitationals as they try to return to the state championship meet.

Senior John Blodgett said the team is on track to return to state. His best time of the season so far was 17:28, posted at the Ojo Rojo Invitational Sept. 17. He said he wants to get his time under 17 minutes.

Four of the boys are already on Maricopa’s all-time list of top 20 times. That includes Blodgett and Coles as well as Gaines and Mwangi.

“My goal is to make it to state and for the team to make it to state as well,” Gaines said. “My personal goal is to get into the 16s.”

Gaines’ personal best, posted last year, is 17:22.

Chanpropah was the first runner of the season to post a personal record, running 28:31 at the Chandler Invite on Sept. 3. But she knocked that down much further to 26:48 in the Ojo Rojo. The girls have struggled to field a consistent team of six (by contrast there were 17 boys running at Copper Sky), but those who show up are coming into form just as the boys are improving with every big invitational.

The Ojo Rojo meet was good to a lot of Maricopa runners. Fourteen registered season bests or personal bests.

After the Nike Desert Twilight, the Rams are scheduled for the Rio Rico Rattler Invitational on Oct. 15.

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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.”

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Sophomores lead the way for Maricopa

Maricopa teams competed in the AIA cross country state championships. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School cross country team competed well at the Arizona Interscholastic Association State Cross Country Meet at Cave Creek Golf Course Saturday afternoon.

The boys’ team finished in 23rd place overall in the team competition. This was the Rams best finish since they took fifth overall in 2011.

The course featured many hills and was designed to push each runner to their limit. Since the Rams didn’t have much experience with hills, the course was exceptionally tough. However, both the boys’ team and the girls’ team ran as a pack for much of the race pushed each other to impressive finishes.

“They did pretty well,” MHS cross country head coach Heather Abel said. “We had a couple of injuries that hurt a little bit, but we had the boys’ team that raced really well. I’m proud of all of our runners today.”

On the boys’ side, 249 athletes competed at the state meet. Maricopa sophomore Sam Coles finished the race in a time of 18:03 to edge out senior Raven Shaw by one second for the team’s best time. Coles, Shaw and junior team captain John Blodgett were neck and neck throughout the race and finished in 74th place, 77th place and 86th place respectively. Junior Jayden Jensen crossed the finish line just over 30 seconds after the lead pack in 133rd place, and sophomore Jose Villigram rounded out Maricopa’s top five in 172nd place.

Junior Mark Mwangi and sophomore Jesse Gaines also ran for the team, but their finishes of 201st place and 225th place were not counted toward the team score.

“Usually we don’t have many hills, but this one we had a lot of hills and a lot more dirt, so I think we did OK for what this course was,” Coles said. “Usually we run close together because that’s what our times are at, but it also helps with the team aspect of pushing each other.”

On the girls’ side, top contender and lead runner senior Jada Wright was injured during the race and wasn’t able to finish. The loss of Wright hurt the team’s overall standings, but the girls still managed to take 32nd place overall in the team competition.

For individuals, there were 241 girls running for the Division II state title. Sophomore Megan Carr led the way for the Rams as she finished in 22:18 and took 86th place overall. Just one second behind her was junior exchange student Fiona Thiele in 87th place. Sophomore Adia Carr was the next Maricopa finisher in 188th place, and sophomores Teresa Flores and Tori Martin rounded out the Rams top five 205th and 209th place respectively.

Freshman Alexandra Mask also ran for Maricopa and was able to finish in 221st place.

“The boys ran exceptionally well today, and I’m just super proud of all of the boys and girls,” Abel said.

The course was rigorous, but the young Rams were able to set the bar high for the team’s goals next year. Maricopa will only lose four total runners, so expectations will be high for the 2016 team.

“We’re going to take two weeks off and pick it back up just before Thanksgiving,” Blodgett said. “We’ll just train through the winter and start lifting more weights for track season.”

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The MHS cross country team is finishing up their final practices before they attempt to qualify for the AIA Division III state meet on Saturday. Photo by Adam Wolfe

Talent and positive attitudes are paying off.

Both the Maricopa High School boys’ and girls’ cross country teams have a chance to qualify for the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Cross Country Meet during the Section II finals on Saturday.

Each team is expected to qualify individual runners regardless of team results, but the teams putting themselves in position is a tribute to how much they have improved throughout the year.

“Our boys have made great improvements from the beginning,” assistant coach Manuel “Grandpa” Quintana said. “Our section down south is, I believe, the hardest section of all the divisions, but each boy has improved basically every race we’ve had. They’ve showed they want to go to state, and I believe they’re going to do it.”

In order to qualify as a team, the Rams will need to finish in the top 50 percent of the teams in the sectional meet. For both teams, that means their top five runners will need to finish fast enough for their average time to be ninth or better in the 17 team field.

“For the boys, we need to run together as a pack and have Raven (Shaw) run under 17 minutes and the rest of the boys follow up close to that,” head coach Heather Abel said. “No matter what we do, it’s going to be close, but they have a shot.

“For the girls, I’m not sure the section is as competitive, so we have a shot there as well,” Abel added. “It’s dependent upon how our fifth girl does. That will be key for us.”

The team’s improvement over last year can be attributed to an improved talent pool and hard work in the offseason. The boys’ team wasn’t close to qualifying for the state meet last season, and the girls didn’t have enough athletes to field a team. Maricopa’s cross country program has shown tremendous growth and potential in just one year.

“We have a lot of good talent on both the boys and girls sides, so we are confident heading into sectionals on Saturday,” assistant coach Danielle Byers said. “I think the boys could qualify, and the girls have an outside chance. We’re just going to have to go and see what everyone’s got and hope for the best.”

“They’ve showed they want to go to state, and I believe they’re going to do it.”

For the athletes, the goal of reaching the state meet was set in the offseason, and the reality of that goal coming to light is simply a culmination of their hard work throughout the year and offseason.

“Saturday we have our sectional meet, and that’s where all the boys and girls will come and hopefully build our way to state,” senior runner Raven Shaw said. “We are at the point where everything is looking good for me and for the team.”

Sophomore runner Megan Carr added, “I think that we’re going to do really well and accomplish our goal of making it to state.”

Sophomore Jesse Gaines is playing football and running cross country for Maricopa High School at the same time. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By the time he graduates, sophomore Jesse Gaines may go down as one of the greatest athletes in Maricopa High School’s history.

Cross country and football could not be more different. Football requires aggression, speed and strength. Cross country requires patience, endurance and will-power. Most athletes would never consider participating in both, especially at the same time.

Jesse Gaines is not most athletes.

As a freshman, Gaines crushed MHS freshman track and field records in the 1,600- and 800-meter runs, and he earned a bronze medal at the state meet as part of the 4×800-meter relay team. Over the summer, Gaines could be seen running mile after mile through Maricopa in triple-digit heat.

That alone would gas out most athletes, but for Gaines it was just part of his summer routine that also included football practice and weight training.

“I just feel my body and see how it’s doing,” Gaines said. “I only run (cross country) on weekends. My (football) coach is against it, but my body isn’t, I guess.”

During last year’s track season, then-head coach Brad Chamberlain described Gaines as the most natural runner he’d ever seen.

His cross country coach, Heather Abel, echoed that sentiment: “Jesse doesn’t get to train with us, but he is such a natural athlete that he can run on his own. He’s been showing up on Saturdays. We’ve had him (at meets) twice, and he’s done very well.”

Gaines finished in the top five, thus earning a medal, in those Saturday competitions. Abel said Gaines is a threat to medal at every meet, and he could contend for a state championship if he ran cross country full-time.

Chamberlain and Abel aren’t the only MHS coaches who recognize Jesse’s athletic gifts.

“Jesse is a special athlete,” head football coach Chris McDonald said. “He is a different type of athlete. From a physical standpoint, he’s got all the tools. We’re still working with him on understanding football.”

Gaines is quarterback for the Rams’ junior varsity team and ran for a touchdown on the varsity team.

Much like the cross country coaches, McDonald wishes Gaines would focus his talents on just one sport. However, recognizing how gifted Gaines is, McDonald supports his decision to pursue both.

“Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t put as much wear and tear on his body as he does,” McDonald said. “Cross country and football are completely different. They’re on complete opposite ends of each other, but he’s good at both, and he’s going to excel at both.”

For Gaines, it isn’t about being a star or trailblazer.

“I’m a pretty good runner, and I like to play football,” Gaines said. “I thought this was a great opportunity to get conditioned.”

This story was published in the October issue of InMaricopa News.

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MHS junior John Blodgett has been a leader for the successful Rams cross country team this season. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School boys and girls cross country teams have seen success early in the season and look to be contenders to qualify for the state meet.

The boys’ team has won three meets so far this season, and runners such as junior team captain John Blodgett, sophomore Sam Coles and sophomore Jesse Gaines are serious contenders as they improve throughout the year.

“We’re having a very good season so far,” MHS cross country Head Coach Heather Abel said. “Our boys have won [three meets] and we’ve had lots of kids get personal records, so we’re actually running very well right now. Our boys’ team is a lot more competitive than it was last year, and the girls’ team, since we didn’t have one last year, is doing very well. Better than I expected actually.”

The boys’ team has followed Blodgett’s lead and put in extra effort and work throughout the summer and early season. The bond between the runners is clear at practice, and they use their cohesiveness to help each other in meets.

“The team is a lot bigger than last year,” Blodgett said. “It’s pretty good to see everybody [setting personal records] and coming out for the first time. We have a couple of veterans, but everyone is just having a good time.”

On the girls’ side, just having the ability to field a team is an improvement. Like the boys, the athletes on the girl’s team put in extra work over the summer, and the team is seeing tremendous results in the first half of the season.

The standout performer is Jada Wright. Injuries have only allowed her to run in two meets so far this season, but she has been in medal position for both.

“Jada was a track star and she is a senior this year unfortunately, but she’s doing very well,” Abel said. “I think she is one of the candidates that could individually qualify for state.”

If Wright can stay healthy, she could turn some heads at the state meet.

“As far as cross country in general, it’s my first year, so I don’t expect to be the state champ, but I still want to get up to that level,” Wright said. “I still want to go to state in general.”

Both teams seem to believe they can improve and make a run at state. They will get their next chance to prove they belong with the sport’s elite on Wednesday, Sept. 23 in Apache Junction.

“I think if we put in the effort we could sure have a shot,” Blodgett said. “You know, anything can happen.”