Mesa cross country teams finish unprecedented season The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa cross country teams finish unprecedented season

Mesa cross country teams finish unprecedented season

By Zach Alvira
Tribune Sports Editor

The 2020 pandemic-shortened cross country season has officially come to a close, a major accomplishment in the eyes of many.

There was an overwhelming feeling of relief at Crossroads Park on Thursday, Nov. 12, as each runner crossed the finish line at the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division I championship. One-by-one the runners came into the final stretch to cheering fans, all wearing masks and social distancing from one another – a new normal for high school sports this season.

“Everything was in question week in and week out,” Red Mountain coach Steven Selby said. “We have to thank the parents and spectators for doing everything they could to stay healthy. It was unclear there in the middle of the September where we were going to have a state meet and whether we would have it at all.

“Just to get here is a breath of fresh air.”

Red Mountain’s boys’ cross country team placed fourth overall at the state championships with 113 total points. Noah Czajkowski, a junior at the school, placed fourth overall in 15 minutes, 53.4 seconds, about 20 seconds behind the blazing time of 15 minutes, 34.6 seconds by winner Xander Black of Brophy.

Junior Elijah Davis placed 12th for Red Mountain, while senior Joseph Hamilton, sophomore Garrett Palmer, freshman Tyler Mathews and junior Greyson Akers also scored key points for the Mountain Lions.

Much like it was for Selby, finishing the race brought a feeling of weight being lifted off the shoulder of Czajkowski. He said there was never a day he went to practice wondering if the team would be shut down due to COVID-19. To finish the race and to do as well as he did is something he considered a great accomplishment.

“I just wanted to go out and leave nothing on the course, something we’ve been doing all year,” Czajkowski said. “We started the year really strong and that’s how we wanted to end it.

“I always try to do my part and know my teammates will do their part.”

The Red Mountain girls placed eighth overall in the Division I race. Junior Taylor Jacobs led all Mountain Lion runners with a time of 19 minutes, 33.7 seconds. Senior Kate Brockman, juniors Ariel Fendenheim and Kayla Hansen also contributed to Red Mountain’s finish.

District rival Mountain View placed seventh overall in the girls’ race, just ahead of Red Mountain. Freshman Tessa Christiansen led the way for the toros, followed by senior Abigail Welch and junior Eliza Elcock.

Mountain View’s boys placed sixth overall thanks to a strong performance by senior Joshua Judd. Junior Brady Eagar also placed among the top-20 runners for the Toros.

Skyline, led by senior Aidan Tinen, placed ninth overall in the boys’ race.

“To get to this point as any team with COVID, we are super happy we got to this point and made it here as a team,” Red Mountain coach Steven Selby said. “Then to perform as well as we did, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”

Red Mountain was one of many programs encouraging its runners to do as much as they could on their own throughout the summer. Between June and July, the team rarely met in person due to restrictions as COVID-19 cases surged the first time in the state.

Selby and fellow coach Brent Krieg would frequently post running routes for their athletes. At times, they would be a couple of miles, often starting at nearby Red Mountain Park. However, there were some circumstances where the routes were as long as seven miles.

The work ethic of all of Red Mountain’s runner helped prepare them for a season that was unlike any other. Less events meant every race counted, and the importance of following guidelines to remain eligible and most importantly, healthy, was as high as ever.

“It took a lot of sacrifice from all of us,” Czajkowski said. “We couldn’t always go out with friends like we used to. We all kind of made sure we didn’t do anything so we could have our season.

“We didn’t know we were going to have a season. So to have a season and get through it pretty much unscathed is awesome.”

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