PHOENIX - Chris Holve of Tuba City sprinted past John Bigwater of Ganado for a dramatic victory at the Arizona 3A State Cross Country championships at the Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix. Holve's victory highlighted a strong showing for the Warrior squad, which finished 4th in the 3A Division and 16th overall among the 118 teams competing in six boys divisional races.
The Hopi Bruins continued their cross-country dynasty with the team's sixth straight 3A championship title (following 11 straight 1A/2A titles). Their 17 titles now match the Tuba City Warriors for the most cross country championships in Arizona history, but their 17 straight titles stands alone as a singular accomplishment.
With little debate, the boys 3A North region proved itself the strongest single region for distance running in the state as Hopi, Chinle, Ganado, and Tuba City grabbed 20 of the 28 individual medals, and swept the top four places in the 3A Division. More impressively, among all 118 teams competing in six boys divisional races at the Arizona state meet, Hopi placed 1st, Chinle 4th, Ganado 6th, and Tuba City 16th. Winslow did not qualify for the state meet after placing a close fifth behind Tuba City (111 points to 114 points) at the 3A North regional qualifying meet, but would likely have also finished among Arizona's top 20 cross-country teams. No single region, even among the largest 5A schools, came close to such a performance.
In the 3A boys race, familiarity among the favorites heightened the drama on race day. For five elite senior distance runners, the race marked a final cross-country battle in a rivalry that has spanned four years. Romero Curley of Chinle entered the race as the favorite after an outstanding season and a victory at the 3A North regional meet. John Bigwater of Ganado (the 2004 3A North regional champ) finished second to Curley at the regional meet after a strong season. The 2005 3A North regional champ, Matt Lamson of Hopi, looked superb at the Mt. SAC Invitational in California two weeks ago. Tuba City's Rick Worker was on a roll after beating his competitors in two key late-season meets. Chris Holve was the runner who had finished ahead of his foes more often than not, yet had never won a big race.
Curley took the lead from the start, leading Bigwater and Andrew Belus of Seton through the mile in 5:05. Worker and Holve were two seconds behind, just off the shoulder of Chinle's Torrey Bert. Lamson sat patiently further back in 15th place hitting the first mile in 5:13.
Two tough hills and rolling terrain helped separate the leaders from the pack in the middle mile. Curley maintained his lead hitting the two-mile mark in 10:26. By this point Belus and Bert were falling off the pace, but Lamson and teammate Chad Baker had joined the lead pack of Curley, Bigwater, Holve and Worker.
Just past the two-mile mark Curley attempted to break the race open, but just didn't have the legs. As Curley faltered, first Worker then Holve burst into the lead with Bigwater 20 meters back. Worker was next to attempt a breaking move as he and Holve dropped down into a wash. But climbing the steep bank out of the wash, Worker dropped his head and began to slow. Holve looked tired, but maintained a ferocious game-face. Back on the golf course Bigwater passed Worker, and ever so slowly began to close the 15-meter gap on Holve.
Holding a slim lead with a half-mile to go, Holve said, "I could hear people screaming, 'Go John, Go!' I knew he was right there, so I just tried to hold him off with whatever I had left." Following an excruciating chase, Bigwater caught Holve on the final short rise before the finish. Holve's mother looked deflated as Bigwater took the lead at the very point on the course she chose to cheer on her son. From the top of the final rise it was a 200-meter down and up, bowl-shaped finish.
On the down slope Bigwater opened up a 10-foot lead, but as the course began to rise Bigwater ran out of gas and Holve found his wheels. At that point Holve recalled an early season newspaper article in which Curley was quoted saying, "It's just going to come down to who wants it more." Holve said to himself, "I want it!" With a fluid stride over the last 50 meters Holve sprinted past the stunned Bigwater, punched two fists in the air and shouted to the sky in victory.
Holve finished the 5k course in 16:23, and Bigwater staggered over the line for 2nd (16:28). Lamson (3rd, 16:30) passed Worker (4th, 16:36) over the final half-mile, and Curley faded to 7th (16:49). Holve said, "Winning State had been my goal the whole season. But it wasn't like I woke up this morning and thought, 'I'm going to win this thing.' I don't think it became real until I went by Romero (Curley) after the 2-mile mark." "I have to say, that Rick (Worker) made it possible. He was the first one to go after Romero, and he pushed the pace in that last mile," said Holve. Holve trains with Worker every day, and working together with his teammate in this race gave him the advantage he needed to run to victory.
Worker also had a fine day in this race. Not only did he finish fourth in the race, but his time was also fast enough for him to earn him All-State honors. Worker's 16:36 placed him 17th overall among the more than 800 runners that qualified for the state meet. Based on their fast times, four 3A North runners will earn Arizona All-State honors. They are: Chris Holve (1st Team), John Bigwater (2nd Team), Matt Lamson (2nd Team), and Rick Worker (3rd Team). All four will also garner automatic invites to run in the Arizona-New Mexico Border War at Kiwanis Park in Tempe on November 18th.
Despite nearly missing the start of the race, Tuba City junior Lance Williams ran a terrific race to finish among the elite and earn a medal with his 25th place (17:31) finish. Following the pre-race glitch, Williams found himself well back in 41st place at the 1-mile mark. He moved up to 31st place by the 2-mile mark, and continued to pass runners to the finish. Williams will be among the favorites to win the 3A cross-country title in 2007.
Junior Kellen Bennett also had an impressive day to finish in 40th place with a time of 18:20. This season was Bennett's first ever running cross-country, but he proved his speed and strength from the start of the season as a key member of the Warriors' varsity squad. Displaying his competitiveness, Bennett surged through the pack throughout the race. Hitting the 1-mile mark in 61st place, Bennett picked off 21 runners over the final two miles of the race.
Freshman Herschel Lester was the Warriors' lone underclassman on the 2006 varsity squad. In the high-intensity environment of the state meet, many freshmen crack under pressure by going out too fast in the first mile and collapsing over the final mile. Attesting to his composure and endurance as a distance runner, Lester ran a smart race moving up through the pack to be Tuba City's fifth and final scoring runner finishing 61st in a time of 19:07.
Just nine seconds behind Lester was his Tuba City teammate Lance Nez. Nez also ran a smart evenly paced race to finish 66th in a time of 19:16. In his final race as a Warrior, senior Sherman Dallas finished 81st in a time of 19:48.