As the final events of the Division-III state track and field meet began, it was clear the Mingus Union girls squad would win its third title in as many years, the question was where would the boys land.
"It doesn't get old, I'm really proud of those girls, they did a great job," said head coach Yancey DeVore.
When the final 4X400-relay races were completed and the scores tallied, the girls handily three-peated as D-III champions with 68.33 points, nearly 14 points ahead of second place Fountain Hills. The boys broke into he top-5 with a gold medal 4X400 and finished fourth with 41 points.
"As a coach I'm always nervous until the final tallies are in," DeVore said. "I knew we had the athletes to do it and I had confidence in them but it's the state championship meet, you never know. It ended up working out for us and ended up working in our favor so I'm really proud of the girls."
When the 2014 season began, head coach Yancey DeVore knew he had talent and experience on both his teams. What he was not sure about was whether or not they would be able to do what was needed in May to possibly win a state title. After the first day of the meet the boys secured one finish that gave them points, senior Blake Lundy's eighth place finish in the long jump, a PR of 20 feet 8.75 inches.
"I'm ecstatic for the guys," DeVore said. "You know what, it was the guys [that flew] under the radar on that one too. It's Mikey [Gilboy] running last night in Talbot's spot and stuff like that. But our guys are much deserving of that fourth place and I'm really proud of them. They finished strong tonight ... with the 4X4 state championship. Can't ask for anything more than that."
As the final boys D-III race lined up, the 4X400 race, the boys' team had cracked the top-10 and was sitting at seventh. Then Dakota Hanks, Ryan Talbot, Lundy and Javin Helsel happened.
"They're family," Helsel said. "We're out here and trying to prove a point and I think that we did it, that when we're together we can do anything we put our minds to."
The boys ran a great race. Helsel and Lundy kept the race close and when Lundy handed the baton to Hanks, he bolted off the line, immediately closing the gap between him and the runner from Rio Rico.
"It's been a lot of hard work, lots of numb legs but these guys make it really easy," Lundy said. "Javin hands it off to me, usually with the lead, and it's my job to retain it, then Dakota and Ryan bring it home. They make it easy on me and I can't ask for a better relay [team]."
He took over the No. 1 spot and made his away around the track, handing off to Talbot, who won two gold medals earlier, took off and when he crossed the finish line, the Mingus Union boys' 4X400 relay team ran a 3:26.67.
"I was excited," Hanks said. "I didn't even have to look at the race, I knew he [Talbot] was going to take it home for us."
The gold medal finish rocketed the Marauders into the No. 4 spot with 41 points. There was not a trophy given to the boys after the race but the finish itself was the highest the Marauders boys have finished since their fifth place finish in 2012.
"Mentally it felt amazing, physically it felt like the hardest thing I've ever done," Talbot said after the race.
Of the 12 girls that traveled to Mesa Community College for the meet, half of them scored points for the Marauders. Senior Heather Calandra was the first Marauder with shot put throw. Calandra already established herself as one of the best throwers in the state and at the state meet she furthered herself from the rest of the competition when she threw a PR of 44 feet 6.25 inches.
"I kind of knew I was going to win this year so it wasn't a big shocker that I overcame [my competition] and everything but it's still good to be a three-time state champion," Calandra said. "... My goal was 45 [feet] and I knew I'd be close because I know how much adrenaline you get at state ... I figured I'd throw over my PR but it kind of surprised me."
Calandra, who repeated as state champion, was extra motivated for the meet because her lone competition, Camp Verde's Viola Logston, had said earlier in the season that she would catch her by state. That lit a fire under Calandra in the shot put.
"I read in the newspaper that the girl from Camp Verde said she could catch me at state, so I kind of made that impossible," Calandra said. "I won by 6 feet so it wasn't even close."
The second gold medal for the girls came by way of the 4X800-meter relay. The team of Justine Taylor, Megan Goettl, Monica Soliz and Rachel Valentine ran a 9:48.51, four seconds ahead of second place Fountain Hills.
"I think we wanted to go and just have fun," Goettl said. "That's like our saying ... 'lets go have fun,' because what's better than winning.
Valentine led off for the team, getting in trouble early but was able to navigate her way out of it. Taylor did her part to keep the girls competitive and Soliz was able to move up from third to the front of the pack before handing off to Goettl.
"The whole time I was running I was just thinking about putting us in a good spot for the team," Valentine said. "I love running with these girls and I wanted to do a good job for our last race together."
It was the sophomore Goettl, Fountain Hills' runner and Rio Rico's Alexandra Schadler out front. Goettl dug deep and pulled away from her competition, icing the race and giving the girls team its second gold medal.
"Its nice to go out with a bang," Taylor said. "I'm glad I could compete with them because they're awesome girls."
Her senior running mate Soliz added that winning the race was "the cherry on top" of their season.
"It's the cherry on top of your ice cream sundae, or whatever you like to eat," Soliz said. "It was a good way to end it."
Goettl had to settle for second place in the 1,600-meter race, a race she took gold in her freshman year. She was locked in a thrilling struggle with Rio Rico's Schadler, a freshman, and the race was not decided until the final 100, when Schadler pulled ahead. Goettl finished her 1,600 in 5:07.14. The sophomore distance runner also finished fourth in the 800-meter race (2:22.66) and fifth in the 3,200-meter run (11:41.85).
Junior Allison Whitworth competed in two individual events and placed in both of those. The junior jumper tied for fourth in the pole vault, jumping 9 feet, and finished fifth in the high jump by clearing 5 feet. When the medals were being handed out for the pole vault, the AIA did not anticipate a tie, so there was only one-fourth place medal. Whitworth displayed selflessness by immediately saying that Benson's Nicole Gaskill-Hull could take the medal.
In addition to the 4X800 relay, Taylor ran in the 800m, 400m and 4X100 relay. She was not able to find another gold medal in any of the races but she did score points and grab a medal in the process. Taylor ran the 800 in 2:25.15 for sixth place and finished third in the 400 with a time of 59.68.
The girls' 4X100 relay team made their way around the track in 51.24 seconds, which landed them in fifth. The team consisted of Taylor, Whitworth, Auli Hanks and Brianna Epperson.
Soliz and Calandra were the other Marauders to score points for the girls' team. Calandra flung the discus 107 feet 2 inches, landing in second place behind Sedona Red Rock's Gabriella Simon (116 feet 4 inches).
"I'm really hoping we're about to win our third state championship that will definitely be the icing on the cake," Calandra said. "Definitely it's been my favorite year by far."
Soliz capped off her career as a Marauder by finishing seventh in the 2-mile run. The senior paced herself to a 11:53.06 finish.
Talbot and his three gold medals led the boys' team. The senior went out with a bang, winning three gold medals and one silver. His silver medal was in the boys' 4X100. Tablot, along with Helsel, Hanks and Levi Collins, was .05 seconds behind the first place squad from Blue Ridge. The Marauders finished the relay in 43.86.
In the 200-meter dash Talbot edged the field with his 22.68 time. It was a close sprint that had three other racers finishing within a half-second of the senior. After the race, a recovering Talbot made a point to wish is mom a happy Mother's Day (this happened the day before) after the race.
"Can I say happy Mothers Day," Talbot opened with. "[Winning the gold,] it feels really great. The 200 I wasn't really expecting to finish first but I pulled it out."
His first gold of the day came in the race that Talbot has been a top-performer in for the past few years, the 400. Talbot sprinted his way around the track in 48.50, pulling away from his competition in the final moments of the race.
"It feels amazing," Talbot said. "Before I was really nervous and probably the last 200 I knew I had them but the first 200 scared me."
Senior Gustavo Banks ran one of his better races of the season in the 1,600. "Goose" ran the mile race in 4:32.94, which placed him in eighth. Fellow distance running teammate junior Jordan Bramblett finished eighth in the two-mile with a time of 9:47.53.
"Without those points you don't know where you end up," DeVore said. "If you want to be in the top-5, you need those eight and seventh [places], whatever points you can get. Especially in a state championship meet, you have to be very stingy with points."