Navajo Prep, Shiprock girls get ready to fly in 2013


By Nicole Baker
Special to Navajo Times

FARMINGTON, N.M., August 29, 2013

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(Courtesy photo)

TOP: The Navajo Prep girls' cross-country team poses with the Class 2A state championship trophy last Nov. in Rio Rancho, N.M.

SECOND FROM TOP: Members of the Shiprock Lady Chieftain cross-country team poses with their Class 3A state championship trophy.

S an Juan County will be drawing a lot of attention this season as both the Class 2A girls Navajo Prep Lady Eagles and Class 3A Shiprock High Lady Chieftains cross country teams prepare to defend their state titles.

With both the Navajo Prep Lady Eagles and the Shiprock Lady Chieftain squads returning almost their entire varsity line-up from last season, they'll definitely be teams to keep an eye on as the 2013 cross country season gets underway next weekend.

"That first race I'm just looking for them to set a benchmark, a baseline, something we can work with, ... figure out where we are, build off of that, and work up from there every week," said Navajo Prep coach Stephanie McDonald. "That very first race I just want them to get out there and run and see what they're capable of."

The Navajo Prep Lady Eagles begin defense of their Class 2A girls' title Sept. 7 at the UNM Lobo Meet in Albuquerque. The Eagles, who took third on the boys' side at state, are expected to also make their mark.

"We ended on a good note last season," with the girls winning state and the boys taking third," said McDonald. "One thing I've learned about this group of kids is that they're willing to take on the challenge."

The Lady Eagles return all but one from their state championship squad with seniors Hannah Antone, Ashley Joe, Brandi Reano, Muriel Waukazoo, Natalia Sells and Ashley Boyd expected to take a leadership role.

"My emphasis this season is on being an example - leadership," said McDonald. "They know what it's like to be coming from the bottom and working their way up. I know what they're capable of and I know what they can do.

"For the girls (the drive comes) from how well they did last year. And for the boys, they're hungry. They know what they can do, what they're capable of," McDonald said, not just on the course but in the classroom.

"At Prep, we hold student athletes to a high academic standard, not just to perform well at sports. So, that's where the (mandatory one hour) study hall session before practice come in."

McDonald added she is expecting the same leadership with her senior boys: David Wauneka, Leandrew Dailey, Aaron Tallis, Isaiah Yazzie and Sheldon Guerito.

"I gave them workouts to work on during the summer," said McDonald, of both the boys and girls teams. "So, in terms of fitness and starting the season they're a lot further than they were the year before. Running is a mental sport. The last part of the race is the part where you just have to gut it up and go."

The Shiprock Lady Chieftains cross country team returns as the defending Class 3A state champions.

"The expectations are always there, coming back as state champs," said girls coach Alice Kinlichee. "The girls know they have to work hard and stay healthy to be successful. Nothing is a given."

That is on top of the fact the Lady Chieftains lost just one senior, and return their top runner and District 1-3A champion, sophomore Cassandra Peters. The Lady Chieftains also return varsity members Melanie Secody, Megan Johnson, Shania Harry and Shandiin Yessilth, as well as several new additions according to Kinlichee.

"The goals are always to get another district championship, and do our best to try and get that blue trophy again," added Kinlichee. "(But), it is a long season and the girls need to take it one meet at a time, improve, gain confidence and run to the best of their ability. (If they do that) anything is possible."

The Lady Chieftains kick things off with their first meet at Rehoboth Sept. 6, as do their Chieftain counterparts.

"I'll be looking to see how the new additions perform and see how my returners pack," Kinlichee said.

For the Chieftain boys, after a solid off-season of running and staying active, the new season will be a chance for the District 1-3A champions to put a disappointing state finish behind them.

"The focus this season is finishing strong," said Chieftain coach Brian Paniagua. "A humbling lesson learned the hard way at the state meet last November where we were favored to finish in the Top 3 team-wise, but ended up far out of that range. We definitely didn't finish strong then."

The Chieftains will be led by reigning district champion Shawvan Levi, a junior, as well as seniors Justin Begay, Manuel IC and Kelsey Maxwell and sophomore Domonic Crosby.

The Chieftains may be looking to a number of other runners to fill in the gaps left by state runner-up Eric Williams and Kevin Aspaas. Some of those possibilities include seniors Lemuel Begay and Zack Ben, juniors Anthony Begay and William Todachinnie, sophomore Bryson Reed and freshman Aaron Gould.

"Having six guys with the ability to fill in the remaining varsity spots, I feel this is the strongest JV team we've had in a while," said Paniagua. "That definitely adds depth to the team overall and I can mix up the varsity team from time to time as the course may dictate. Like always at this point in the season, the varsity squad isn't carved in stone, yet.

"At our first meet (Rehoboth), we are looking to run well as a group and finish with a low pack time," added Paniagua. "This early in the season we aren't looking for the win, rather we are looking to take care of the little things that need to be covered in order to be successful: Getting a good start, staying together, not panicking if we find ourselves scattered and in that case getting back together before the end of the race, and above all strongly finishing the race.

"If we do all that, then the good team finishes, and eventually the wins will come."

Bloomfield will look to be competitive as well, under the direction of head coach Julian Garcia.

Bloomfield, Farmington, Kirtland and Aztec begin their season Sept. 5 at the Aztec Invitational.

"I think I'm most excited about our age," said Farmington coach Kevin Deswood. "We have a young team. ... We have a lot of young runners who are fairly talented."

In 4A, Piedra Vista High's boys and girls teams look to be a strong force again, as the returning District 1-4A boys and girls champions return most of their squads.

"I'm just excited to see the kids race," said PV coach Sampson Sage, noting they have a lot of experience with everyone returning (except the few graduated seniors) that ran last season. "For a lot it (the biggest challenge) is keeping everyone healthy."

Sage added the Panthers have had a really solid block of training and are eager to get their first race in. "I'm just looking for a solid honest effort from everyone."

The Panthers begin their season at the UNM Lobo Meet as well Sept. 7.

"PV comes back fairly pretty stacked," admitted Deswood. "I think trying to match their team this season is going to be our biggest challenge."

Kirtland will be under the new leadership of Lenny Esson.

"We're a young team," Esson said. "About 70 percent of the team is freshmen and sophomores and a few juniors and seniors to help with leadership.

"I think our biggest challenge this season is building consistency and introducing new techniques," Esson added. "I'm excited to be back at the high school level. I look forward to working with these young people. They bring a great attitude every time, every day. That makes it fun to come and meet them for practice."

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