With just one returning runner, the young Shiprock girls cross country team claimed its third state championship in school history and first since 2004.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said Lady Chiefs head coach Alice Kinlichee. “They stepped up big time. I knew we had a chance with a little less than two miles in because Sandia’s fifth runner was way back in the pack.”
Cassandra Peters finished in eighth place to lead the Shiprock team also consisting of Shania Harry, Melanie Secody, Megan Johnson and Kairai George.
“She’s been steady for us all year,” Kinlichee said of the freshman Peters. “We know the girls can’t have a good race every time, but she just wants to win. She’s got the strength and desire and is becoming a leader on this team.”
Peters is in her first year of competitive running after moving over from the volleyball team and is showing signs of a future individual state champion.
“Being a freshman, it is really exciting because I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Peters said. “With coach Alice helping me, I know I can accomplish anything.”
The Lady Chiefs feel as though the results set the team up to be state title contenders for several years to come.
“A lot of people say experience is the key in running, but our keys were determination and desire,” Kinlichee said. “Everybody is coming back expect one runner. We have a full program and it’s working. I’m expecting more top three state finishes. We’ve managed to stay consistent, and I believe we’ll be in the top three every single year if we continue what we’ve been doing.”
The Shiprock boys team had a disappointing end to its season, finishing in sixth place.
“We fell apart on the course and couldn’t get it back together,” said Chieftain head coach Brian Paniagua.
Senior Eric Williams ran his best race of year, finishing in second place with a time of 16:54 in his final race for Shiprock.
“It’s the first time he’s lead the team all year and to finish as state runner-up is a great way for him to go out,” Paniagua said.
The Chieftains entered the race ranked No. 3 in 3A.
Shawvan Levi fell behind in a pack of runners and finished in 13th place.
“He tried to battle back, but got caught in a group of runners,” Paniagua said of Levi. “Maybe with another year or two of experience, he’ll be able to break away from a pack like that.”
Paniagua is confident that his team will return stronger next year.
“We’re pretty young, only losing two senior,” he said. “The kids have continued improving, and hopefully we can keep it up.”