Palo Verde’s girls cross country team isn’t ready to concede a state title to rival Centennial this season.
The Panthers gained some early-season momentum Saturday, placing the top three runners in the girls junior-senior race and claiming the team title at the Labor Day Classic on their home course.
Emma Wahlenmaier won the 3.1-mile race in 20 minutes, 12.3 seconds. Kate Vanderstelt was second at 20:17.7, and Molly Marias finished third at 20:20.3. Palo Verde had a team score of 28, four points better than Centennial, whose top runner — sophomore Alexis Gourrier — won the freshman-sophmore race. Green Valley was third with 96.
The Palo Verde trio trains and does a lot of pace work and tempo workouts together, Wahlenmaier said.
“It feels really good,” Wahlenmaier said. “It was painful for me today, but I definitely know I’ll do better in upcoming races and improve. I’ve been running with Molly and Kate since my freshman year. They are really close to me, and I’m really happy that I could experience that with them.
“I was really excited about winning the team race as well. I felt like part of a really cool squad. I’m really proud of our team,” she added.
The three Palo Verde runners were neck-and-neck with Centennial’s Karina Haymore at the two-mile mark before Wahlenmaier opened up a small gap. Haymore finished fourth at 20:39.1.
“Emma is our top runner, so she’s a shade ahead of them in training but they work together,” Palo Verde girls coach Robert Davis said. “Kate was ahead early in the race, and Emma was laying back. When they caught up together and Kate realized that Molly and Emma were right there, she was like, ‘All right, let’s do this.’ It’s kind of a group mentality they have with each other, and it just really worked out well for them today.”
Davis said Wahlenmaier really started to improve during the track season her freshman year. During her sophomore cross country season, Wahlenmaier started off slow, but she quickly progressed to one of the top area runners, eventually finishing seventh in the Division I state meet.
And if her performance in this race is any indication, Wahlenmaier is ready to compete with the best runners.
“Last year, the goal Emma and I had was I wanted to show her how to win races,” Davis said. “The things you had to do, the sacrifices you have to make on the course, and she went from just being a good varsity runner to realizing what you have to do to get to the upper level of the race. She really learned that lesson well. We had a senior last year – Sam Reintjes, who finished fifth in the state – was really a good mentor for her.
“There is a big learning process in cross country, and we see that a lot with sophomore runners. They really start to figure out how you can be at the front of the pack and manage that.”
Wahlenmaier also knows she has a challenge ahead of her to win a state title this year. Gourrier, who finished fourth in last year’s state meet, cruised to an easy win in the freshman-sophomore race Saturday in 19:24.7, more than two minutes ahead of the rest of the field.
“We are definitely going to keep training,” Wahlenmaier said. “This is just the beginning. We are not even close to our best. We are just going to keep pushing ourselves in practice and strive for the best we can. I try to beat my own time instead of focusing on people around me. I want to beat people, but I focus on beating myself, so that way I’m satisfied with what I do.”
Centennial took the top three spots in the freshman-sophomore girls race as McKenzie Morgan placed second (21:26.5) and Delani Dietrich finished third (21:30.7).
The Bulldogs also won the team race with 19 points. Palo Verde was second with 78 points, three better than Arbor View.
In the boys junior-senior race, Green Valley’s Austin Rogers led the entire way, finishing in 16:31.2. Centennial’s Dominic Roberts was second (16:50.2), and Green Valley’s Leonardo Rubi was third (17:20.2).
Green Valley won the team event with 49 points. Coronado was second with 63 points, and Centennial was third with 68 points.
In the boys freshman-sophomore race, Pahrump Valley’s Bryce Odegard finished first in 17:25. Palo Verde’s Trevor Goldsmith was second (17:56.6), and Arbor View’s Ian Jackson was third (18:00.6).
Palo Verde won the team race with 61 points, one better than Arbor View. Green Valley was third with 70 points.