State might have to chase deep Corona del Sol team

State might have to chase deep Corona del Sol team


State might have to chase deep Corona del Sol team


It’s not often a third-place team goes into the following season with the proverbial “target on its back,” but when that team has the kind of talent that Tempe Corona del Sol brings to boys cross country this year, people are going to pay attention.

Corona del Sol enters 2013 with the top two returning runners from last season, seniors Nathan Rodriguez (third in 2012) and Ryan Normand (sixth).

With Corona del Sol’s depth and the fact that other top teams, such as defending champion Phoenix Desert Vista, Gilbert Highland and Tucson Rincon, are facing significant losses, Rodriguez and Normand are looking to help Corona del Sol run away with the Division I crown this season.

“Those two guys kind of make everybody notice us,” coach Pat Smith said. “I’m sure everyone’s going to say we’re the favorites, and maybe we are. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but we should be pretty decent all the way through.”

This is certainly the year for Corona del Sol, as in addition to Rodriguez and Normand, the team’s other top three runners are seniors as well.

“This is kind of the year we’ve been waiting for,” Smith said. “This group of seniors, when they were freshmen it was like, ‘Man, when they get to be seniors, we’re going to have a pretty darn good team.’ ”

No team will have to make more adjustments this season than Yuma Cibola. It must cope with the loss of Bernie Montoya, now at Arizona State after one of the more dominant high-school careers in Arizona history, as well as a move down to Division II after finishing seventh in Division I last year.

“It’s definitely a unique situation,” Cibola coach Kris Norton said. “You have a kid like Bernie, and it obviously creates a lot of publicity. But there’s almost a sense of comfort in being able to come back and focus on the group effort. I think we’re seeing the benefits of that right now.”

Last season’s defending champion, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows, loses top runner Ethan Homan but will have a fair shot at repeating with strong junior and senior classes returning. A pair of southern Arizona schools will also be in the mix, as Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge brings back its top seven runners and Tucson Catalina Foothills returns its top four.

Rio Rico crushed Division III last season, putting five runners in the top 10 and finishing with a microscopic 29 points, 44 ahead of runner-up Tuba City. Rio Rico graduated three of those five runners, but senior Ben Noriega and junior Oscar Amaya are this season’s top returners and should give Rio Rico a solid head start again.

In Division IV, the usual story line prevails: it’s Keams Canyon Hopi and everyone else.

Hopi has won 23 consecutive state championships and shows no signs of slowing down, returning four of the state’s top 20 runners from last season, led by junior Anfernee Howard.

“If we get all our guys on the same page on the same day,” Hopi coach Rick Baker said, “we should be right there again.”

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