Starting over is never easy but that’s exactly what the Camp Verde High School cross country team will be doing this season under third-year Head Coach Mike O’Callaghan.
The Cowboys return only two runners from last year’s 2009 squad and have enough new faces to make anyone’s head spin.
Camp Verde lost six of the seven boys who ran cross country to graduation in 2009.
Four of the top five girls for the Cowboys also left, one of whom moved out of Camp Verde and three whose families decided to home-school them.
According to O’Callaghan, however, he’s excited as ever.
“We’ve got a lot of kids out this season, more so than in the past and it will be fun to watch them all run this season,” O’Callaghan said.
Camp Verde didn’t have a cross country program for the longest time until the Cowboys returned to the trails in 2008.
According to Athletic Director Mark Showers, Camp Verde didn’t have a cross country program when he arrived in 1994. The school tried to start one in 2005, but made it halfway through the season before injuries and too few kids made the powers that be cancel the program.
This season, junior Cassy Alvarez returns after a great run in 2009, no pun intended, qualifying for the 1A-2A conference state championship meet last November.
Alvarez finished 47th overall as a sophomore with a 24:32.01 time. Alvarez is the only girl with state experience returning from last season.
Junior Karry Gillman didn’t participate in cross country last year but could be considered a returner since she qualified for the state meet as a freshman in 2008 for the Cowboys.
The other half of the returning class from 2009 belongs to boys team senior Johnny Hudson.
Hudson finished 110th overall as a junior with a 23:23.03 time in the state championship meet and is the only returning boy who ran at state last season.
Hudson was a part of the Camp Verde team that finished 12th overall at state last season with 317 total points scored as a team.
Hopi High School nailed another state championship banner to its gymnasium wall in 2009 with 27 points. It is estimated that in the last 20 years, Hopi has won anywhere from 14 to 17 state championships in cross country.
If Gillman can be considered a returner then senior A.J. Gonzalez should be as well. Gonzalez took a break in 2009, but raced with the cross country team in 2008 as a sophomore.
Top newcomers for the girls this season include juniors Wynonna Buysse and Tiffanie Oium while sophomore
Sarah Westervelt is running as well.
Freshmen Laura Montano, Jina Stevens and Amber Yocum are also on the list of top newcomers this season for O’Callaghan.
For the boys, top newcomers include seniors Mariano Trinidad and Dakota Yazzi along with junior Brian Hudson, sophomore Cody Valencia and freshmen Joey Benson, Cody Cullen and Ryan Malloy.
“We’ve got a lot of good meets to go to this season and I think we can have a few kids on both the boys and girls teams to qualify for state,” O’Callaghan said.
The Cowboys begin their season Wednesday, Sept. 8, when they travel to participate in the Payson Invitational.
Camp Verde will also participate in the bigger meets like the Four Corners Invitational at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff on Saturday, Sept. 18, and, of course, the big Mingus Mountain Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2.
The state meet is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix.