By Richard Smith
In recent years, boys distance running at Shadow Ridge has been on the cusp of something big.
To break through the Stallions needed a bit shorter distance. And they needed the motivation of knowing the runners who paved the way for the program were graduating this month.
On May 3, the Shadow Ridge 4×800-meter relay team of seniors Brendan Kuffel, David Ortiz and Spencer Sylvester and junior Kyle Kerr broke the eight minute barrier to win the Division II title.
“We knew we could drop quite a few seconds down. Not all of us had a good race whenever we ran the 4×800,” Ortiz said. “It’s something I dreamed of. Ever since sophomore year I’ve been running the 4×800 and I’ve always wanted to win that title.”
This foursome came into the 2016 state meet with the second best time but finished fifth.
They came back motivated and showed their improvement y going under 8:10 in midseason.
“We definitely though we would make an improvement from last year, especially with this years cross country season. We made improvements so our individual times,” Ortiz said.
Increased competition drove the Stallions to a winning time of 7:57.75.
Sylvester said Shadow Ridge ran against some of the Division I schools, but they often held back a couple of their best runners. The Stallions only lost to Peoria in regular season.
In the geographically sprawling Division II, it is not unusual for the top contenders in each track event to not see each other until the state meet. The times showed Gilbert Campo Verde and Flagstaff would be in the race.
Shortly before state, Campo Verde surpassed the Stallions’ best time.
“There were teams racing with us the whole time and most of the time we didn’t experience that competition during the season,” Kerr said.
Shadow Ridge thrived during a day approaching triple digits, beating Campo Verde by almost three seconds and Flagstaff by more than eight.
Sylvester said it was the hottest day they’ve ever raced on.
“It helps in our case because we run in the heat more than some teams. It sucked because we knew it would be a really hard day to run, but we also knew it slightly played to our advantage since we had more heat training than, say, Flagstaff,” Sylvester said.
That training regimen — unique to middle distance races — tried to draw more of the sprinter out of cross country runners.
Kerr was making that conversion in 2016 and starting to concentrate on the 400 and 800. This year he was firmly in that camp, no longer using the longer distances in practice.
He said the 800 is a unique race. It’s a more strategic race and a long, hard run.
To get up to speed early and hold that pace is difficult for some of the long distance runners. They need an opportunity to get warmed up, Kerr said.
To train for the 4×800 relay, the Stallions had to mix up sprint and distance elements every day.
“We’d go for a medium distance run and then hit some sprint repeats, but longer sprint repeats than most sprinters would hit,” Sylvester said.
Back at Mesa Community College on May 6 Kerr faced one of the year’s windiest days when trying to win the 800 individual race.
He said there was a lot of pushing and shoving. Kerr approached it as two 400-meter dashes, gearing down a little bit on the second lap.
That approach, and the extra sprint training, worked. After finishing 11th in the 800 last year, Kerr held off West Valley rival Joaquin Armature of Ironwood and Sierra Vista Buena star Manuel Olivo-Quinones, winning in 1:59.22.
“That race was pretty crazy. The wind was super strong that day. More than the title of state champion, I wanted to overcome the challenge of racing against a bunch of seniors,” Kerr said.