Running in the rarefied air of Flagstaff’s Buffalo Park, the Mingus cross-country teams competed well against the top teams in Northern Arizona on Saturday, Sept. 21, in the Four Corners Invitational.
Despite missing two of its top runners, the Mingus boys team finished 10th among 30 teams in a boys division that included traditional powers Page, Hopi, Tuba City, Flagstaff and Chinle; and the girls team, also not at full strength, finished 10th among the 27 teams in its division.
“When you go up north, these are really good teams,” said Mingus cross-country coach Jim Bostwick. “This northern conference — we used to call it the ‘Region of Death’ up here.”
The northern teams are indeed stacked with talented runners. To wit: the top two boys teams in the meet, Page and Tuba City, placed 10 runners among the race’s top 14 finishers; and the winning Flagstaff girls team placed three in the top six, including two-time state champion Tatiana Gillick, who won by more than a minute over the second-place finisher.
The Mingus girls, though, did well considering that the No. 2 runner, junior Anissa Urueta, had to drop out of the race with a hamstring injury, the No. 3 runner, senior Sienna Gehl, skipped the race to take her college entrance exams, and the No. 7 runner, senior Katelyn Lewis, also skipped the race due to injury.
“I was pleased today,” Bostwick said. “I hate to say it, and I told them I meant it nicely, but with what we had today, we ran very well.”
Mingus’ No. 1 girl, senior Justine Taylor, finished 18th overall in 20 minutes, 28.9 seconds, but said she struggled a little bit with the higher altitude.
“This is definitely hard,” Taylor said. “But you just have to push through it.”
With this being her senior year, Taylor said she is gearing her training toward being in prime condition for the state cross-country meet in November.
“I got fifth in state last year,” she said. “So I really need to build on that and move up from there.”
The second runner to cross the finish line for the Mingus girls was senior Monica Soliz, who said she beat her personal record from last year, taking 33rd place overall with a time of 20:59.1.
Soliz also said she had a hard time adjusting to the altitude.
“I just hit a wall at mile two, so it was a tough finish,” she said. “[The finish] was pretty good; it just wasn’t what I was expecting to do.”
Soliz said the transition from swimming to cross-country is a big leap.
“It’s just really different to go from being in the pool to coming out here and racing against all these people at the same time,” she said.
Sophomore Kelli Balenski was the third Mingus runner, finishing in 48th place in 21:40.9, despite being in her first year competing for the varsity.
Freshman Cassia Gehl finished in 74th place in 22:26.9, and sophomore Maribel Cruz finished in 76th place in 22:31.6.
For the Mingus boys team, senior Gustavo Banks finished 17th in 17:05.5, but said he felt like he could have been faster.
“I started out kind of slow because I was running with my teammates, so I was back in like 120th place,” he said. “But I just trucked on through and got up to 17th.”
Banks said it was his fourth time competing in the Four Corners Invitational, and added that he beat his personal record on the course by about 30 seconds.
“I probably could have run faster if I didn’t start out with my team,” he said. “But I’ve got to help them out and get them up there, because at state we’ll be running together.”
Like the girls team, the Mingus boys team was not at full strength, missing its No. 2 runner, junior Jordan Bramblett, and its No. 3 runner, freshman Chris D’Angelo. But the remaining Mingus boys picked up the slack.
Sophomore Joseph Sandoval was the second Mingus boys runner, finishing in 78th place in 18:25.5, freshman Keegan Cain finished 92nd in 18:39.2, junior Keenan DeVore finished 95th in 18:41.1, and junior Traygon Ullery finished 119th in 19:12.2.
“We had five runners missing,” Bostwick said. “It’s SAT day, but I think every school can say that.”
For the full story, please see the Wednesday, Sept. 25, issue of the Cottonwood Journal Extra.