The inaugural Battle at the Border cross country meet last Saturday at Nogales High School featured plenty of highlights: A first-place finish for the NHS girls, a boys race in which the top three teams were separated by only two points, and a new course record.
It was an auspicious start for an invitational that NHS coaches and staff hope will become an annual and growing tradition.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said girls coach Liz Thomson, one of the architects of the event that saw 134 runners from eight schools compete in four different races.
“It’s a learning experience, but we had a great time,” she said, citing the contributions of numerous student, teacher and parent volunteers, as well as the support of the administration and Athletic Director Eric Sowle.
The NHS girls were easy winners in the varsity race, compiling 16 points to 45 for second-place Sunnyside. Sophomore Mia Barraza was second overall, finishing the five-kilometer (3.1-mile) course in second place with a time of 22:22. She was followed in third place by junior Brianna Morgan, a newcomer to the team, who crossed the finish line in 22:27.
Next was senior Sofia Durazo, in fourth place at 22:50; sophomore Brianna Martinez, who came in fifth at 23:03; and junior Elizabeth Fuentes, who finished 10th with a time of 24:13.
“We’re running as a team, so we’re coming in second, third, fourth, fifth – like in a row or bloc – and that’s what happened at our first meet last Wednesday, when we took first place,” Thomson said, referred to a four-team race in Tucson on Sept. 1.
Thomson also gave a shout-out to senior Idaly Banuelos, who was awarded 11th place, but who finished with the same time as her teammate Fuentes. Banuelos and Durazo are the team’s co-captains, and their coach praised them both for being strong leaders.
Rio Rico High School didn’t field a team in the girls varsity race, but two RRHS runners competed individually: sisters Angela and Johana Holman. Angela, a senior, came in seventh with a time of 23:49, while Johana, a sophomore, was 13th at 24:47.
The NHS boys came within a point of winning the varsity race, tallying 77 points. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy was first at 76 and Sabino High School was a close third at 78.
“We’re right there at the competition level with everybody this year,” Nogales coach Armando Romero-Davis said.
Sophomore Javier Martinez-Peralta finished fifth with a time of 17:47 to lead the Apaches, while junior Santiago Martinez was 11th overall at 18:41.
Two NHS freshman were next: Jose Coronado (17th, 19:23) and Alec Guerra (21st, 19:51). Sophomore Brayan Chavez also picked up points for his team, running the course in 20:08 to finish 23rd.
“We had the advantage of being on our home course, and this course is brutal, you know,” Romero-Davis said.
The brutality of the Nogales High course, which features several challenging hills, took Rio Rico High School runner Jorge Trujillo a bit by surprise, though the Hawk junior still managed a third-place finish at 17:28. On two occasions, he said, he turned his ankle while running the hills section of the course.
“We got here and we didn’t know the course,” Trujillo said. “We tried to do a quick walk-through and understand it somewhat. But it was very unexpected in certain parts. I really didn’t know how to go into it.”
Still, the lessons learned on Saturday will be helpful going forward, he said.
“The hills, the downhills, the uneven ground, knowing you have other strong competitors out there,” Trujillo said, adding: “I’m looking forward to seeing them again, hopefully.”
The Hawks boys team finished sixth overall, with senior Emmanuel Arvizu coming in 22nd at 20:04 and fellow senior Leonardo Padilla finishing 32nd with a time of 20:58. Two sophomores rounded out the top five for RRHS: Adrian Gonzalez (34th, 21:26) and Francisco Murrieta (35th, 21:43).
The star of the boys varsity race was Myles Floyd, a sophomore at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, who came in first with a time of 16:34.7 – a new course record at NHS. Josue Rosas of Nogales set the record as a junior in 2010, with a time of 16:41 – five seconds better than the course record he established as a sophomore.
There was a small difference in the course route on Saturday, however, though it remained five kilometers in distance. One segment on the southeast side of campus had to be rerouted due to the ongoing traffic ramp construction project.
Junior varsity races
Local athletes also fared well in the two junior varsity races on Saturday.
Eleven runners from NHS competed in the girls JV race, which the Apaches won with 20 points. Ximenna Perez, a sophomore at RRHS, was second with a time of 24:53 and freshman Johanna Simpson of Nogales was third at 25:42.
NHS won the boys JV competition as well, led by freshmen Joel Martinez-Peralta (second place, 19:55) and Antonio Kyriakis (third, 20:21).
Thomson said the idea for the Battle at the Border came when she was talking with another NHS coach at a track meet last season.
“We just thought we should have an invitational down here, that it would be fun to start the season,” she said.
The Apaches used to compete in an early-season meet in Sierra Vista, but that event is no longer being held. “So I thought, ‘Let’s try to fill that spot and start something down here,’” Thomson said.
Next year, the organizers hope to get even more teams involved, and perhaps grow the race from eight schools this year to 12 in 2022.
In addition to the competition, the event can help give visitors a positive introduction to the area – as evidenced by a pair of coaches overheard on Saturday marveling at the scenic landscape around them.
“It’s a great thing to get people down to Nogales, maybe people who have never been here before and they don’t know how beautiful it is and how wonderful our community is,” Thomson said.
The Apaches played host again on Wednesday, though this time just to one team: the Florence High School Gophers.