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On a cold and rainy October morning, cross country teams from all over the state of Arizona gathered to participate in one of the more brutal courses around in the Mingus Mountain Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 4.

With the sun taking a seat behind the clouds like a football fan does in his favorite chair, teams began to arrive at Clarkdale-Jerome Middle School.

Sweatshirts, pants, long socks and beanie caps adorned their delicate runner bodies in an effort to keep all extremities warm for the upcoming competition.

By Brian Bergner Jr.

Larson Newspapers

 

On a cold and rainy October morning, cross country teams from all over the state of Arizona gathered to participate in one of the more brutal courses around in the Mingus Mountain Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 4.

With the sun taking a seat behind the clouds like a football fan does in his favorite chair, teams began to arrive at Clarkdale-Jerome Middle School.

Sweatshirts, pants, long socks and beanie caps adorned their delicate runner bodies in an effort to keep all extremities warm for the upcoming competition.

Vast numbers of runners began to spew onto the soccer field, exiting their big yellow buses like a fire was being set inside.

Runners began to congregate toward one another with no limits as to what school or who they talked to looking for cheap laughs, interesting stories and other conversations that shouldn’t be mentioned in print.

A warm feeling begins to come about around the field with more than 250 runners taking refuge under tents, most of them stretching their minds and their bodies in preparation for the race ahead.

Many begin to pull on their colors, representing their schools with all the pride and passion a high schooler can muster on an early Saturday morning.

Boys and girls from the same school began to run together, lightly jogging through the light mist and disappearing into thin air, then re-appearing like they had just taken a trip into the future.

One unknown runner was all alone by a distant tree, moving his legs violently like he was trying to dig a hole in the ground.

“I’m going to win this race. I need to get ready,” the young boy said without a doubt in his mind.

Suddenly, he broke away from the tree like he was bound to it from birth and sprinted off toward his teammates. With a big smile on their faces, they welcomed him with open arms.

In what seemed like minutes but was actually a few hours, the freshman and open runs for boys and girls were complete and it was time for the varsity runners to take their marks.

The natural light illuminated the starting line, then  dimmed while clouds move up and over the distant mountain range, covering the yellow sun once again.

BANG!

A gun goes off and the runners respond with all the might and force of a stampede in a distant plain.

Fans, held back by only a long piece of rope, cheer loudly while their favorite runner whisks by them and tries to get ahead of the pack.

The smart ones, however, stay together, pace themselves throughout the course, waiting for the right time to strike when others have worn out.

Rocks, ditches, water trails, muddy pathways and lost tumbleweeds being taken by the winds’ sense of humor lay in front of the pack ahead

The half-mile uphill part of the course begins to approach for the leaders, with Mingus Union High’s own Tim Freriks and Sinagua High’s own Brian Shrader in the lead.

These two have fought with each other during their careers in cross country, a rivalry which has built up like the great pyramids.

“This course is definitely challenging. The hill brings out the best and the worst in people,” Shrader said.

For the girls, a few runners — Casa Grande High’s Kylee Kieser, Sinagua’s Alexandra Myers, Hamilton High’s Taylor Cole and Goldwater High sisters Bridgette and Annette Sotelo — were all neck and neck at this point.

With the toughest part of the course complete, downhill racing begins where many participants lose their footing, trip and fall, then pick themselves up bloodied and bruised, but still finish the race like the warriors they are.

At the finish line, Shrader crosses a mere 16 and a half minutes after he began the race to take the top spot.

His 16:35.10 time is one of the fastest in the history of this Mingus Mountain course.

Marauders fans begin to cheer as they see a big number 216 on the chest of their favorite runner, and while Freriks crosses the finish line, cheers turn into pats on the backs and hugs.

Freriks, who won this invitational in 2006 and in 2007, finished second overall with a 16:58.10 time.

“I thought I ran fine,” he said about an hour after the race.

“We were focused on the team thing this time.”

Mingus certainly was as Wilson Cutbirth, Daniel Jaimes, Alex Stratz and Jose Juan Wells all finished in the top 16 and during the awards ceremony, stood proud as they accepted their first-place trophy.

“We have some team here at Mingus, and they all ran a great race,” Mingus head coach Jim Bostwick said.

In the girls race, Kieser separated herself from the pack and finished in first with a 20:25.40 time, one of her best finishes at this course.

Myers was 24 seconds behind in second place and Cole took third with a 21:17.50 time.

Around the Verde Valley, other runners were determined to win the race with Sedona Red Rock High right in the middle of the storm.

Scorpion Jesus Rivera recorded the best finish of his career at the Mingus Mountain Invitational, with a 17:34.10 time, good enough for fifth overall.

“This is my fastest time here. We as a team have improved quiet a bit. We are looking to continue our success right into state,” Rivera said.

Teammates Brian Hoyer and Garrett Debs finished ninth and 10th respectively, giving Sedona a fourth-place team finish.

Also from Sedona, Hope Goimarac continues her career with a seventh-place finish and Sophia Zeno was 10th.

In Camp Verde, the new team on the block, newly appointed head coach Mike O’Callaghan brought his young runners over just for the experience.

“Our kids are coming along nicely. This is their first year out and they are learning quickly. We have a great group of kids and they’ve helped make the move up here for me nice,” O’Callaghan said.

Reece Watkins was the top finisher for Camp Verde with a 20:25.60 time, good enough for 44th place.

His brother, Damien Watkins, finished in 52nd with a 20:57.60 time.

For the Camp Verde girls, only Karry Gillman ran for the Cowboys, and she finished second overall with a 26:08.80 time in the freshman race to start the day.

In the end, after all cheering had been silenced, all trophies had been handed out and all medals had been awarded, runners boarded those big yellow buses to head back to their homes and enjoy the rest of the weekend, like the kids they are.


Brian Bergner Jr. can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 131, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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