Yuma Cibola senior Bernie Montoya probably spends more time shaking hands after finishing a 5K race than he does running one.
After Montoya crossed the finish line in 15 minutes, 14 seconds to claim his third consecutive Division I boys state cross country title Saturday at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix, he immediately turned around and congratulated each competitor. Interviews, well-wishers and catching his breath can wait.
“I’ve always been congratulating my competition,” said Montoya, who’s been going through the ritual since he began running as a sophomore. “They’re doing the same thing I’m doing. They’re going through the same pain I’m going through.”
They’re not producing the same results, though. Montoya is considered the top male high school distance runner in the country, and will be running in a major regional race in the coming weeks, although he’s yet to decide which one.
Schools are chasing after him like the rest of the Division I field was Saturday. He’s visited Colorado and Texas, has interest in Arizona State, and has two visits left to split between Oregon (for sure) and either Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“The choice is going to come down to the individual coach — who do I connect and work with in the next few years,” Montoya said. “Because my coach, he’s the secret behind the whole project with me. He’s done everything for me.”
Just like Montoya, Gilbert Highland came into the race as defending state champ and favored to win again, but was unseated by a short-handed squad from Phoenix Desert Vista. Desert Vista placed all five of its scoring runners in the top 30 to beat Highland by 34 points.
“I know good coaches … probably knew we were dangerous, but in all honesty, we were probably the only guys who thought we were going to get it done today,” Desert Vista coach Chris Hanson said. “That makes it even that more exciting.”
Desert Vista lost its top runner two weeks ago to a leg injury, and has been without last year’s No. 3 runner for more than a year due to prolonged concussion issues.
After the win, speculating on what could have happened with a full squad is a lot more palatable.
“I never want to say that when you’re disappointed or feeling sorry for ourselves,” Hanson said. “But when we’re excited because we rose up as a team, we can kind of feel a little better about saying, ‘Man, just think what we could have done.'”