First-time winners were the order of the day Saturday at the elite team and individual competitions at the 41st annual Doug Conley Cross Country Invitational at Tempe's Rolling HIlls Golf Course.
The first-time individual winners were Rio Rico freshman Alexandra Schadler in the elite girls race and Corona del Sol senior Nathan Rodriguez (elite boys). Debuting as elite team champions were Highland's girls and Corona del Sol's boys. Both programs have been strong throughout their history (35 years for Corona and 20 years for Highland).
Led by another solid performance by Rodriguez, Corona del Sol's boys prevailed on a truly fall-like morning in the Valley with 56 points. Rodriguez outraced teammate Marcus Wheeler by six seconds for the top spot. Rodriguez covered the 5K course at aptly named Rolling Hills in 15 minutes, 55 seconds. Corona's strong 1-2-4 finish (Ryan Normand took fourth), keyed a decisive victory over runner-up Tuba City (113). Page (135), Ironwood Ridge (139) and Hopi (194) rounded out the top five teams. Defending champ Rio Rico placed sixth.
Corona, which has won every invitational its competed in this season, was up to the challenge of its toughest meet to date.The victory had coach Pat Smith beaming.
"We'd never won this before, so it's a big deal," Smith said. "The competition was very good with Page, Rio Rico, Tuba City Ironwood Ridge. We had a good day today."
Rodriguez won his fourth individual invitational race in four tries. He suffered a hard-luck, runner-up finish last year by half a second to Salpointe's Andy Trouard and that stoked the fire to come out on top this year.
"It's been a goal of mine individually to win here," Rodriguez said. "Our school had never won it, so I wanted to do all I could ton help us win. We ran well today and were all on the same page. Ryan was sick this week and even at 80 percent gave it all he had and finished fourth."
Normand has been on Rodriguez's heels in all Corona's races, finishing a couple seconds behind Rodriguez. Wheeler picked up the slack with his runner-up finish on Saturday. Also scoring for Corona were Blake Fischer (16th) and Patrick Cullings (33rd).
Tuba City was paced by two top-10 finishers -- Anthony Masayesva (3rd) and Brian Masayesva (9th). Completing the top-10 were Mesquite's Tyler Day (5th), Saguaro's Alexander Stevens (6th), Rio Rico's Oscar Amaya (7th), Page's Xiaija Schuldies (8th) and Marana Mountain View's Josh Fleetwood (10th).
While Rio Rico didn't successfully defend the boys title, Rio Rico coach Stephen Schadler headed home with similar satisfaction. His daughter, Alexandra, made a strong push the final quarter mile or so to slip past Highland's Lauren Ellsworth for a seven-second triumph. Schadler's winning time was 18:59. Ellsworth held off Mesquite's Aiice Jensen for second by .01 of a second.
Alexandra Schadler, who won her only other invitational race this season three weeks ago at the Chandler Invitational (freshman race), showed plenty of poise in winning.
"My goal was to finish in the top five,"Schadler said. "I wanted to work the third mile as hard as I could. I knew I'd need to finiish strong to have a chance. I think I did that. We wanted to finish in the top half of teams, and I think we did that, too."
Schadler, who got a quick congratulatory hug from her father as he spinted away to watch the boys race, said having her father as coach doesn't put any added pressure on her.
"It's nice to have him as a coach," she said.
Led by three top-10 (scoring) finishes (Ellsworth 2nd, Allyson Girad 5th and Addi Montgomery (10th), Highland dethroned last year's champ Xavier. Highland totaled 77 points and Xavier 93. Completing the top five teams were Corona del Sol (141), Red Mountain (141) and Rio Rico (206).
"This was the best finish for us here, ever," Highland coach Dave Montgomery said. "It was kind of a surprise. I really thought we'd be second or third. The competition was tight. It was hard to tell until the results were read."
Other top-10 girls finishers were Corona's Kelly Naumann (4th), Tuba City's Brianna Loughran (6th), Fountain Hills Sierra Jarriel (7th), Red Mountain's Taryn Estavillo (8th), Skyline's Sarah Ziemba (9th) and Vista Grande's Carissa Diaz (10th).