Cross-country: Shiprock girls chasing a state title
FARMINGTON — "Hungry" is the word that comes to the mind of Shiprock coach Alice Kinlichee when watching her Lady Chieftains cross-country team prepare for the 2015 season.
"We had 18 girls show up for day one (of practice). Usually, they trickle in that first week," Kinlichee said. "The writing is on the wall that they're more serious this year. They're hungry and determined."
Kinlichee said her team has been noticeably more focused this offseason and has its sights set on a blue trophy in 2015.
"We did real well last year; we won six meets," Kinlichee said. "We finished out by winning our district and taking second at state. It was a really good year for us, but a lot of the girls aren't satisfied."
The Lady Chieftains will be guided by three seniors, including Lacey Howe, who set a course record last year at the district meet in Zuni on her way to Runner of the Year honors.
Right there with Howe is freshman Khadija Lapahie, who looks primed to be one of the best runners in the district. Kinlichee called Lapahie "our best runner at state" last year when she was only in eighth grade, finishing 11th overall.
The Shiprock boys will have to fill the void left by graduation, and head coach Brian Paniagua expects senior Domonic Crosby to step into a leadership role for the Chieftains.
With the 2015 season right around the corner, Paniagua said he would like to see his team come together.
"Cross-country depends on how well you finish as a pack. You're only as strong as your fifth runner," Paniagua said. "We're a little strung out right now. So getting my fourth and fifth guys to step up, and run closer to our other guys, and give their all each race is a short-term goal of mine."
Although the Broncos lost last season's top runner to graduation, third-year head coach Lenny Esson said he has reason to believe the Kirtland Central boys will be a force this year.
"What was exciting about last year was finishing it out knowing what we had coming in this year," Esson said. "When some of our eighth-graders had an opportunity to run one or two meets, we started to get excited about what they were going to bring us as freshmen this year."
Esson said he believes his younger runners, such as Kashon Harrison, could give some of his juniors and seniors a run for their money in 2015.
The Broncos have set their sights high in 2015.
"For us, it's about winning our district and going on to stand on that podium at state," Esson said. "Two of the top three coming out of our district should end up on the podium. It's a pretty tough district."
The Lady Broncos are in a similar position, stacked with young talent.
Esson has high hopes for LaKyla Yazzie, who caught his eye last year as an eighth-grader.
"I have probably the best eighth-grade girl in the district from last year coming in," Esson said of Yazzi. "She represented the school at the state meet, I believe finishing in the top three in the two-mile as just an eighth-grader."
Esson has some returning athletes, like seniors Chantel Pine and Ayanabah McGilbert, to go along with the younger runners and believes the girls can challenge Shiprock this season.
The Bloomfield boys face an uphill battle in District 1-5A.
"It's a tough district when you've got Shiprock, Kirtland and Zuni in it," Garcia said. "Last year, we struggled, but I like what I see out of my returning guys so far."
The Bobcats finished last in the district in 2014 and didn't send any boys to the state meet.
"We struggled the whole year," Garcia said. "We just could never get in the upper echelon of the district."
One senior who could represent the royal blue and gold at the district meet this year, according to Garcia, is senior Donovan Begay.
Sophomore Clayton White and freshman Christopher Wethington are the other two runners who Garcia expects to lead the way for Bloomfield.
The Lady Bobcats will be in a similar position trying to break through in the district.
In 2014, the Lady Bobcats roster was comprised of only six girls, all of whom were freshmen.
"We struggled last year, and a lot of that is because of how young we were," Garcia said. "It's hard to expect a freshman girl to step up as a leader. But we'll see what happens this year."
To get his team prepared for a better season in 2015, Garcia said he's been working on improving the girls' conditioning as the summer winds down.
"We've been doing a lot of base work, running the hills and doing a lot of tempo runs," he said. "We're getting there."