DJ Harris drove himself every day in practice to be part of Phoenix Desert Vista’s rich cross country tradition.
Out of the school’s six previous state championship teams, only two runners had won state.
That drove him to be part of the Desert Vista running lore, capturing the Division I boys state cross country title on the 5K course at Phoenix’s Cave Creek Golf Course in 15 minutes, 50.3 seconds. He was the only runner in Division I to break 16 minutes.
He led Desert Vista to a second-fastest team cumulative time (1:21:11) in Arizona state meet history.
Harris, a senior, joins Garret Kelly (in 2005) and Matt Boughton (twice, 2006 and 2007) as the only other Desert Vista runners to win a state championship.
For his efforts, he is azcentral sports’ Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“He fits a similar mold of pushing himself day in and day out to be the best he can be,” coach Chris Hanson said.
Harris said the two previous Desert Vista state champions drove him.
“There is a lot of tradition at the school, and they have always been the guys you always strive to be like,” Harris said.
Harris finished fourth last year at state, but he knew he’d have a good chance at winning it this year. The top three runners last year were seniors.
He made it a goal coming into the season, but he hit a speed bump at the Desert Twilight Festival meet in Casa Grande on Oct. 2, finishing 11th in the boys sweepstakes race, which was run late at night. He ran the 5,000 meters in 15:20, nearly 20 seconds slower than first-place Daniel Bernal of El Paso Eastwood.
“I had been having trouble sleeping, and I was not feeling very well,” Harris said.
But Harris felt that motivated him the final month of the season.
“The day before state, I told my mom I was going to stay behind the leader, before I make a move,” Harris said. “I didn’t want to over-extend myself early. I had to stay calm, not get too excited.”
After running 5:16 in the first mile split, Harris got faster. He then ran a 5:06, and finished with a 4:53.
“I felt a lot of energy in the last mile,” he said. “I had to just keep pushing myself.”
Harris ran a 15:59 in the Southwest Region Nike Cross Nationals in Casa Grande on Nov. 21.
All-Arizona Boys Cross-Country Team
(Based on top times at the state championships.)
DJ Harris, Desert Vista, Sr.
Santiago Hardy, Chinle, Jr.
Cade Burks, Gilbert Perry, Sr.
Luke Mason, Phoenix Brophy Prep, Jr.
Drew Burns, Brophy Prep, So.
Xavier Esparza, Desert Vista, Sr.
Miguel Olivio-Quinones, Sierra Vista Buena, Sr.
Caden Hercules, Scottsdale Desert Mountain, So.
Diego Lopez, Glendale Apollo, Sr.
Habtamu Cheney, Desert Vista, So.
Hociel Landa, Brophy Prep, Jr.
Reach Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-460-1710. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.