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Cross country: Local teams search for right mentality

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The Skyline cross country team took some summer runs along the Mogollon Rim in Payson. (Skyline cross country Twitter page)

The mentality it takes to compete in cross country can be difficult to come by, even by those who compete in the sport.

For the most part, it is all about ignoring the voice inside the head. It can have a lot to say over the 3.1 miles covered in a high school meet.

Tuning it out and ignoring the urge to slow the pace is difficult, but when a competitor puts the team’s needs ahead of the individual that inner voice tends to drift away.

Several of the Mesa schools have traditionally done a good job of producing runners with the right mentality. As the 2017 season approaches, here’s how the teams are shaping up.

Boys

Desert Ridge – The Jaguars finished 10th in the 12-team sectional meet to miss out on state with the highest finisher returning in senior Alex Witthus.

Dobson – The Mustangs had a down year last year, missing out on state, but that shouldn’t be the case this year behind sophomore Justin Legg and senior Scott Sally.

Mesa – Last year’s top runners were sophomore Noah Dominguez and junior Marshall Horlacher as they hope to push the Jackrabbits to respectability after finishing 13th at the sectional meet.

Mountain View – The Toros had another top five finish, coming in fourth last year, and bring back a strong nucleus. Senior Carson Klepinger looks for a top 10 finish after finishing 13th last year, while junior Branden Rasmussen and senior Jared Pace finished in the top 25.

Red Mountain – The Mountain Lions look to best last year’s seventh-place finish when they were led by junior Brody Bourgeois, who finished 38th overall.

Skyline – Grant Kennedy set the third best time in Skyline history (16:21) but missed medaling at state by one spot as he finished 22nd. The team has high expectations considering the Coyotes missed qualifying as a team.

“We are coming into the year ranked 7th, but with how well we’re working and preparing, I see this as our floor and not our ceiling,” coach Michael Roelofs said. “I believe we can be a top five or top three team at state if we continue to work hard and stay hungry.

Westwood – The Warriors can only get better as they finished last – 13th – at the state qualifying meet a year ago. Senior Horacio Contreras looks to close the gap and become a state qualifier.

Girls

Desert Ridge – The Jaguars finished 10th in their section last year, missing out on the state meet, with their highest finisher Caitlin Odell back for her senior year.

Dobson – The Mustangs failed to qualify for state last year, but have three runners who have shown promise behind sophomore Susana Sallard, junior Dominique Brown and newcomer Brooke Stratman.

Mesa – The Jackrabbits have trouble finding depth, but those that do compete are dedicated. Senior Niji Hunter finished 39th last year at state, but will miss most of the season due to knee injury while Jenna Williams and Shaye Arnett have varsity experience.

Mountain View – The Toros finished sixth at the state meet with Kailey Welch leading the way with an eighth-place finish. She is back along Elizabeth Christensen (26th), Rylee Johnson (63rd) and Aryanna Tahiliani (68th).

Red Mountain – Mountain Lions finished 10th but four of the seven were seniors. Top placer Niki Hemmerlin finished 19th as a sophomore in 2016.

Skyline – The Coyotes had five underclassmen on the seven-member state meet squad that finished eighth in Division I. Carlene Hamilton, a junior, was the only one to break the top 30, but Coyotes coach Joe Williams feels another run at the top eight is possible.

“I expect us to compete very well with almost everyone in the state,” he said. “We will work hard, prepare, and give it our best shot every race we run.”

Westwood – The Warriors are coming off a 12th-place finish at their state qualifying meet from last year. Junior Joliene Durham was the highest placer at 61st.

– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to jskoda@mynewsmesa.com.

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