Shiprock girls edge Taos for 4A state title
Kashon Harrison, Kirtland Central boys take third
FARMINGTON — It wasn’t its best race of the season, but the Shiprock girls cross-country team has set the bar so high that even a decent performance was good enough to earn the Lady Chieftains a state title Saturday.
After winning its fifth straight 1-4A district title last week, Shiprock went to Albuquerque this weekend and picked up its first 4A state championship since 2012. The Lady Chieftains edged Taos by 2 points, finishing with 58.
“During the season, I knew these girls could win a state championship all along,” Shiprock coach Alice Kinlichee said. “We actually ran our second-worst race of the year, but still, we came together. A win’s a win.”
The state title is Kinlichee’s fourth in her 22 years as Shiprock head coach. Taos beat Shiprock by 33 points in last season’s state meet, which motivated the Lady Chieftains this season, Kinlichee said, adding that that experience was the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s.
“As the years go by, you get mentally tougher,” she said. “There’s a lot of experience on this team, and it proved to be a big factor today.”
Lacey Howe closed a marvelous high school career with a third-place finish. Freshman Khadija Lapahie showed that Shiprock’s future is bright by finishing seventh.
Kirtland Central’s boys met their season-long goal on Saturday, which was to land on the podium at state. KC did so by taking third place in 4A with 107 points.
“Anywhere from one through three was an accomplishment, so to get third was exciting,” Broncos coach Lenny Esson said. “Out of our top five scoring runners, four of them will be returning. So I was just telling the boys, ‘You have to start somewhere and build on it.’ First step was to make that podium, next year the goal will be to get a little higher.”
Kashon Harrison concluded his fine season with a third-place finish for KC.
In 5A, Piedra Vista’s boys cracked the top five to land in fifth. Panthers coach Sampson Sage said it may have been his boys' best run of the year.
“We reverted back to our old bread and butter, which is being patient through the first mile and taking advantage of other runners’ mistakes,” Sage said.
Ryan Kruger was 24th for PV, and Ben VanOtteson was less than five seconds behind him in 26th.
The Lady Panthers took sixth at state and were paced by Paris Chee (24th) and Cassandra Crowell (26th), just as they have been for much of the year.
Just behind the PV teams were Aztec’s teams, both of which grabbed seventh.
Elana Kresl’s cross-country career ended in impressive fashion, as the senior crossed the finish line with the 10th-fastest time.
“It’s been such a great last three weeks for Elana. I’m so proud of her,” Aztec coach Steve Lanier said. “She got emotional there at the end, so I know she’ll miss running.”
Dwight Barton was the highest-placing Tiger in 20th. Matt Smith finished 29th despite battling an asthma attack a mile into the race.
Shiprock boys coach Brian Paniagua was pleased with the seventh-place finish of his squad. He said the goal was to get on the podium, but against a bevy of talented 4A teams, he couldn’t complain with the result.
“We fell a little short of our goal, but we had some guys run lights out today,” Paniagua said. “Our top four guys all got under 18 minutes, which is really, really good.”
Three of Shiprock’s top four finishers from Saturday — Aaron Gould, Justin Yazzie and Aaron Lee — will be back next season as the Chieftains make a push to land on the podium in 2016.
The Lady Broncos took 10th out of 12 4A teams. LaKyla Yazzie ran to an eighth-place finish. The freshman had a tremendous season and will be a cornerstone of Kirtland’s girls team for the next three years.
“I think LaKyla put a little bit of pressure on herself, but I understand it. She’s turned enough heads this year to where people say ‘Oh, LaKyla Yazzie, there’s one of the 4A favorites,’” Esson said. “She just ran out there, though, and did the best she could.”
Farmington didn’t place as a team in 5A, but it did send two boys and two girls to Albuquerque.
Danny Hickman (18th) and Tanin McDermott (19th) were neck and neck with each other in the boys race, which is consistent with how they’ve placed all year.
“Danny and Tanin have helped each other out pretty much all year, and they continued that today," Farmington coach Kevin Deswood said.
Freshman McKinzey Allee had a great race, just as her coach expected. She put a stamp on a dominant freshman year by taking eighth. Her teammate Melina McDermott finished 34th.
In the 3A races, the Navajo Prep boys were led by Mathis Quintana. The junior finished 13th to help the Eagles snag third.
"(Mathis) isn't one of those runners that starts fast," Prep coach Stephanie McDonald said. "But the reason he's done so well for us all year is because he almost always finishes strong, and he did that today."
Navajo Prep’s girls took fourth with 102 points, only 5 points out of third.
Sarah Chacon was one of the best runners in 3A this year, and she landed in ninth place. Freshman Cierra Charley earned 12th place for the Lady Eagles.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.