After a disappointing second-place finish in district, the Navajo Prep girls cross country team responded with one of its best races of the year.
The Lady Eagles beat out East Mountain to capture the program’s third state championship Saturday in Rio Rancho.
Navajo Prep edged out the East Mountain team by only five points 68-73.
“After two years in a row of taking second, they came ready to run,” said head coach Stephanie McDonald whose team was state runner-up in 2010 and 2011. “They were hungry and ready to make up for district. I told them, ‘It’s all in your hands. You’ve been taking first all season. You know what needs to be done and things will take care of themselves.’”
Muriel Wanzakoo finished in second place to lead the Lady Eagles with a time of 20:10, six seconds behind state champ Cassie C de Baca of Pecos. Wanzakoo was followed by Hannah Antone in 11th and Delta Higdon in 12th.
The team camaraderie was a big key for the team rebounding after the district race, McDonald said.
“They live together. They see each other every day, and it was amazing to see how they came together and bonded over the course of the week,” she said. “My coaching was done. They knew what they needed to do and didn’t want a repeat of the feeling they had after district. “
The state championship was the first for Navajo Prep cross country since winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.
The Navajo Prep boys team ran its best race in school history, finishing in third place.
Leandrew Dailey was the top Eagle runner in seventh place.
McDonald feels like this finish will lay the ground work for future success in the boys’ squad.
“The boys realize what they’ve accomplished in establishing the foundation for the program,” she said. “I’m losing only one senior on the boys’ team and this sets an example for the JV and freshmen boys. We’ve always had strong girls athletics at Prep, and the boys’ finish is icing on the cake.”
With both teams returning most of their runners, the Navajo Prep cross country teams should be in the title hunt for the next few seasons.
“I feel like we’ve made a statement this year,” McDonald said. “It blows my mind to take a first and third place trophy. I’m overwhelmed with emotion.”