11/12/2013 2:58:00 PM Mingus Union, Camp Verde cross-country teams cap off 2013 with best races of season Marauders girls repeat as state runner-up, boys return to winner circle with fifth, Yocum represents Cowboys at state with PR
Justine Taylor attempts to catch fourth place in the final part of her race. Taylor ended the race in fifth with a time of 19:18.889. VVN/Travis Guy
Jordan Bramblett catches his breath after finishing his 5K in 16:24.231. The junior placed ninth, earning first team all-state honors. VVN/Travis Guy
In a sport of times, where one second is the difference between a top finish and a ham sandwich, the place one finishes is not always the whole story.
Sometimes, the time they ran the race tells the story. Or maybe, the time from when a team's first runner crosses the finishing line to when its fifth runner crosses will explain the race for them.
This is just the nature of cross-country, which is like few other sports. Cross-country is a sport where one can be successful just by competing against themselves and improving their time from the week, or year, prior.
Of course, at the AIA State Championship races, the runners were not competing against themselves; they were competing against the top teams in Arizona. As a coach, this is when you want your team to run its best. As Mingus Union head coach Jim Bostwick once said, cross-country starts with regionals and ends with state.
Some student-athletes were able to run new personal bests, while some came close and others not so much. But in the end, it is hard to argue against the fact that the runners representing Mingus Union and Camp Verde High Schools had the best races of the year right when they needed to most.
Running in the final race of the day, and her final cross-country race as a Cowboy, Camp Verde senior Amber Yocum lined up in the pack of 108 girls. Yocum was the lone Cowboy to qualify for state, so being lined up by herself was something new for her.
She did have her teammates on the sidelines cheering for her, as the ones that were able to made the trip to Phoenix.
As the gun sounded and the runners took off form the line, Yocum was swallowed up by the pack of runners and became another body in a sea of them.
"My first mile was a little quick, but after that I recovered and it was a good race," Yocum said. "It was more of a hilly course, so yeah, I'm OK with my time. And I had fun on the race, and that was the goal."
As the pack spread out through the race, Yocum found herself in the middle of it. She started the race a little fast, but was able to level out her run and find her pace. When all was said and done, Yocum ran a 7:23.90 pace en route to a new PR, 22:56.225, beating her previous mark by two seconds.
"That was great to see she ran that [time] as her final run," said Camp Verde head coach Mike O'Callaghan. "To finish out her season and, essentially, her high school cross-country career, oh yeah, it was a nice way for her to finish up the season, definitely."
Yocum and O'Callaghan were both happy with her time and how she ran during the state race. The only part of her race that was less than desirable was the place she finished in. The Cowboy finished in 50th.
Despite finishing lower than she has all year, Yocum was running in the largest race she has in 2013 and running in her first state meet. Plus, many of the girls that finished in front of her were part of the teams that finished in the top-10.
"... Overall, probably one of her best races this year," O'Callaghan said. "I know 50th is a ways back, but the fact that she got there this year, I think said a lot for her, because we do have the toughest section to run in [in Division-IV], to compete in. Getting there was a big goal of hers this year, and she did get it accomplished. Its always a nice thing when you can do that."
Before Yocum lined up for her race, both of the Marauders cross-country teams had run their races and were on the bus headed back for Cottonwood.
First up were the boys. Led by senior Gustavo Banks and junior Jordan Bramblett, the boys were making their return to the state meet after missing out, as a team, in 2012.
When all was said and done, the boys' return was triumphant. The Marauders finished in fifth as a team with 191 points and 1:35.769 separated Mingus' first scoring runner from its fifth. The Marauders finished 17-points ahead of sixth place Catalina High School and 48 behind fourth place Chinle.
"It's always good to finish the season running your best race of the year, so that was really cool," Bostwick said. "The boys are excited, I'm excited, fifth place [we] made the leader board ... top-4-out-of-5 were from our conference."
As was the case at sectionals, Bramblett and Banks were the top-finishers for Mingus. The difference in the state race was the time that separated them. At regionals, less than a second was the difference between Bramblett finishing ahead of Banks. At state, Bramblett crossed the finish line 21 seconds ahead of his teammate, in 16:24.231, which landed the junior in ninth. Banks finished his 5,000-meter run in 16:45.015 and in 17th.
Bramblett missed out on a new PR by two seconds, but still improved his time from regionals to state, as did Banks. Banks was farther away from his PR, which he set at the Desert Twilight race with a time of 16:18.7.
"Yeah, I pretty happy. I wanted to get top-5, but I did as good as I could," Bramblett said. "The first part it was kind of scary, but in the end of the race, it was good. There was just a whole bunch of people in a big group [at the beginning of the race.]"
After Mingus' top boys crossed the finish line in the top-20, sophomore Joseph Sandoval was next with a time of 17:47.615. Junior Traygon Ullery, 17:58.254 and freshman Keegan Cain, 18:00.122, rounded out the top-5 for the Marauders. Juniors Joseph Cook, 18:41.881, and Keenan DeVore, 18:47.618, were the final Mingus runners to cross the finish line.
"Every boy ran and had their 'A' game today, what more can you ask," Bostwick said. "Everybody is happy. They ran their fastest times, they ran as a team ... that's good, we'll take it. I just like being in that top-5, being back in that top-5."
The final race for Mingus Union was the Division-III girls' race. In 2012, the girls ran to a second-place team finish. The Marauders finished 2013 as runner-up again with 132 points, but this year was different. The team was battling injuries and had first-time runners in the lineup.
"It's pretty awesome," said senior Justine Taylor. "This year it's really exciting. Last year we were a little upset, but we honestly didn't expect getting second this year, so that was exciting."
Despite the inexperience and the injuries, the girls were able to beat out Page and Tuba City High Schools as a team, both of which scored higher team scores at sectionals, or as Bostwick put it, "the region of doom." With 132 points, the Marauders were 17-points ahead of third place Page, and beat Tuba City by 39 points. Claiming top team honors was Rio Rico High School with 89 points.
"The girls ran their hearts out," Bostwick said. "State's easy coming out of our region. I think again, four out of the top-5 are from our region. State runner-up, can't beat that."
For three Marauders, it was their final high school cross-country race. Taylor, Monica Soliz and Sienna Gehl all ran PR's for the event. Gehl beat her previous mark by a second, Soliz by 16 seconds and Taylor by 15. Bostwick, who spends a majority of his time working with the boys team, was grateful for the job his assistant coach, Lisa Rauch, has done with the girls and coaching them to another second place finish.
Taylor was the top runner for Mingus. After her performances all season, the senior had high expectations coming into the race and her goal was top 2. Unfortunately, she missed out on second by 20 seconds. It is entirely possible that Taylor could have finished fourth, but a miscalculation coming up to the finish line placed her in fifth with a time of 19:18.89.
"It was a freshman mistake, I could have out-sprinted her," Taylor said. "But, our team was far enough off that it wasn't the difference between winning and losing ... I'm happy with my time. You're never going to be happy if you don't win, but I'm happy enough with it."
A week prior at regionals, Soliz had beaten her opponent by a nose to finish seventh. At state, she had more of a safety net when she finished ninth in 20:08.24, which was five seconds ahead of tenth place.
About 2:41 separated Taylor from Mingus' fifth runner to finish, freshman Cassia Gehl, 21:59.075. Sophomore Kelli Balensky, 21:05.487, was the third Marauder to cross the finish line, followed shortly after by Sienna, 21:29.695.
Rounding out the final runners for the Marauders were sophomore Maribel Cruz and junior Anissa Urueta. Cruz finished with a time of 23:12.243 and Uruetta with a time of 22:01.213.
"Maribel was hurt, she finished seventh, but she's been our key the whole year, she ran her heart out and gave it her best shot," Bostwick said. "Anissa gave it her best shot, but those two girls carried [us all season] and the others picked them up [for state], a nice way to finish."
When the finishes were announced and the medals handed out, Taylor and Bramblett each received first team all-state honors, Soliz received second team honors and Banks earned an honorable mention.