Bruins set national record with 16th cross country championship

PHOENIX -- Hopi High School boys cross country team set a national record by winning its 16th straight state championship.

Bernardsville from New Jersey has the second most consecutive with 14 straight titles.

There are 11 teams nationally which have won more state boys cross country championships than Hopi, but they were not consecutive. Providence from Rhode Island and Wilmington from Delaware have 29 state titles. But Providence won those titles over a 50 year span and Wilmington won its titles over 34 years.

Tuba City High School holds the record in Arizona with 17 titles over the 29 year span from 1970-1999. New Laguna holds the New Mexico record with 19 titles during a 28 year period ending in 1997.

The Hopi High School boys emerged victorious this year despite having the meet at a new location Nov. 5 at Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix. The state meet had been held in Anthem the last several years. Hopi High barely edged out Tuba City High School and Ganado. The Bruins won with 62 points, Tuba City grabbed second with 65, Ganado took third with 67 and Chinle finished fourth with 95 points.

Hopi High Coach Rick Baker said of all 16 championships this was the toughest one because Hopi had an up and down year due to injuries, illnesses and other problems.

"The guys pulled through and showed they have the heart of a champion," he said. "We were young and didn't have as much depth, but we peaked at the right time."

Kevin "Fat Boy" Rivers, a freshman standout, led Hopi High with a third place finish and teammate Matt Lamson took fifth. The rest of the field for Hopi showed Chad Baker, ninth; Vonn Secakuku, 23rd; Vincent Timms, 34th; Nate Numkena, 39th; and Rydell Namoki, 52nd. There were 122 runners in this race.

Coach Baker said Rivers and Lamson ran strong races. His son Chad performed the best he could since he ran with a cold. Secakuku ran better earlier in the season, but did his best despite a sore leg. Timms, who also plays basketball, had his best run of the year.

"The guys really deserved this championship. I want them to just soak it in and be humble," Coach Baker said.

Coach Baker said the course was challenging.

"There were some blind spots you couldn't see. I think the real strategy happened in that no man's land," he said.

Coach Baker noted that the 84 degree heat was pretty warm to the runners.

"We run better in the cold, but we had to adjust and we did," he said. "I'm proud of the guys and the program."

With the top four runners returning next season, Coach Baker expects Hopi High to remain competitive. Rivers, the freshman wonder, said he surprised himself by running such a good race.

"I've been trying to catch Matt (Lamson) all season," he said. "I felt relaxed because I wanted it real bad."

Rivers, who will also play basketball and run track, said the course felt long and hot.

Lamson, who set a course record at the regional run last week, said winning his third state championship is not getting old.

"It's getting better," he said.

Lamson, a junior, said winning the state championship was different this year because the team had been up and down more than past years.

"I still expected us to win this year. I was confident after having a team meeting last night," he said.

Lamson said individually he did not run as well as he could have run.

"I was a little off the pace. My body shutdown. I don't know why. I'm glad the team won, but I'm upset that I didn't run better," he said.

Lamson said it was a tough up and down course, and the weather was hot.

Chad Baker, a sophomore, said winning the state title with his dad as coach fulfilled two dreams.

"I always wanted to win state, but I've always dreamed of running for my dad," he said.

Baker said he started slow this year, but felt he ran to his potential at the state meet, especially considering that he was fighting off a cold. He said the course was hilly, but good. He said the weather was hot, but good.

Secakuku, also a junior, said it felt great to win another state title. For the last several years, the race had been run at Anthem. Secakuku said this course

seemed longer. He had hoped to finish in the top 10 but said sore calves kept him from that.

"I did the best I could with the sore muscles," he said.

Timms, a senior, said since this is his first year running that he enjoyed being part of the state championship team.

"I wanted to help out the team," he said. "I expected us to win because we had the feeling that we were ready to put our best effort forward."

Timms said the course was good, but he thought the heat impacted him a little. Numkena, also a senior, said he was glad to be part of the state championship team, but felt he could have run better.

"I was just glad that Vinnie stepped up and helped us win," he said.

Numkena said he expected the team to win because he knew that they had a bad race at regionals and they were ready for state. Namoki, a freshman, said he was glad to be part of the championship team at Hopi High for the first time.

"I want to help them win another state title next year," he said. "The course seemed long and a little too hot. If affected my running."

Namoki, who is active in JROTC, plans to run for the track team in the spring.

Other champs

Blue Ridge's Matt Rowell was the individual state champ as he ran the 3.1 mile course in 17:01. Derrick Spencer from Window Rock placed second with a time of 17:07.

The rest of the team scoring showed Payson, fifth, 156; Blue Ridge, sixth, 166; Fountain Hills, seventh, 204; Seton Catholic, eighth, 252; Safford, ninth, 287; Alchesay, tenth, 301; Holbrook, 11th, 318; River Valley, 12th, 326; Sahuarita, 13th, 332; Chino Valley, 14th, 345; Florence, 15th, 357; and Wickenburg, 16th, 375.

Rick Worker led Tuba City High School by grabbing fourth place and teammate Christopher Holve took sixth. Harold Smiley finished 15th; Lance Williams placed 19th, Sherman Dallas placed 35th; Kevin O'Conner took 50th and Nicholas Morgan placed 85th. Ganado's John Bigwater finished seventh and teammate Beniamino Begay took 10th. Cody Tsosie placed 17th;

Garrison Begay finished 22nd; Ryan Roanhorse finished 26th; Alvin Begay took 29th; and Kyle John placed 32nd.

The top 28 runners were given all-state medals. The other area runners finishing in the top 28 were Kyle Whitehair, Winslow, eighth; Dominick Whitehorse, Monument Valley, 13th; Rodell Williams, Chinle, 16th; Tyler Logg, Chinle, 18th; Romero Curley, Chinle, 20th.; and Kanasa Gaddy, Holbrook, 27th.

Other races

Page won the 4A Division 2 boys state championship, packing three runners into the top five and six runners in the top 25 to beat Rio Rico by 35 points. Donovan Tsinnijinnie led Page with a third place finish. Victor Zazueta from Desert View was the individual champ.

In the boys 1A-2A race, St. Michael's Craig Curley was the individual state champ with a time of 16:43.

It was his first victory against Red Mesa's defending champion Weston Jones, who placed third. Northland Prep from Flagstaff won the state title with 49 points and St. Michaels of Window Rock was second with 63 points.

(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)

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