The Grand Canyon High School track team celebrated a tremendous season with a decisive first-place finish for the boys in the A1 conference and a huge boost of confidence for all who competed this season.
The seven-member boys team finished at state with 104 points. Their nearest competitor, Pima, finished with 84.
"It was a season of a lifetime," said Assistant Coach Sally Wahler. "We had a great year."
Beyond the winning, Head Coach Leah McGinnis said that coaches paid the team the ultimate compliment after that meet.
"They said they had never met such a nice group of boys who were so gracious in their winning," she said.
While the boys finished first this year, the coaches said the future looks bright for the young girls team, with most bringing their experience back next year.
One of those, freshman Lizzy Tobin, was named Rookie of the Year. The first-year sprinter finished in the finals several times and set a new school record of 29 feet, 8 inches in the triple jump. "That doesn't happen often for freshmen. It's very impressive," said McGinnis.
Senior Tempy Walker was the male Rookie of the Year, joining the track team for the first time. "We were sad there was no baseball this year, but we're also thankful," said Wahler. "He did an awesome job," said McGinnis. "What he lacked in form he made up for in athleticism."
The coaches added that Walker put some competitive pressure on teammate Justin Kremer, consistently coming in second to Kremer's first, earning him the title of "second place man."
Kremer, who brought home the gold in every race he ran this season, received the Victory and Salute to Excellence Award as well as a T-shirt to honor the meet record he set in the 200 meter at Blue Ridge.
"I'm so proud to be his mom and his coach," said McGinnis. "It's hard to coach your kids. It was hard on Justin too. He had to do what he was told and not talk back."
Both coaches described him as a beautiful runner who made each race look effortless. His speed and his form also earned him a reputation statewide and an invitation to the Southwest Classic Meet in Albuquerque in June. There he will compete with an elite group of runners who regularly post times of 10.2 and 10.3 in the 100 meter.
"Justin needs that competition," said McGinnis.
Ryan Eck was named Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year.
"He's the kind of kid who makes you love coaching," said Wahler, adding that over the past few years "he has become a confident athlete, a good-natured athlete and a leader."
In addition to the MVP trophy, he also received 50 red Starburst candies which he had said he wanted if the team won state, and a T-shirt commemorating the meet record he set in the triple jump at Blue Ridge.
The coaches also praised Eck and Kremer for their leadership as co-captains.
Chris Streit was chosen as Teammate of the Year for his willingness to help wherever needed when not competing.
The Coach's Award went to senior Julie Haughton, who had served the team as a manager before but this year found the confidence to compete for the first time.
"She is awesome as a manager but I would rather see her run," said Phillips. "She is a coach's dream. She listens and sees the big picture. She goes the extra mile."
The coaches thanked all of those who helped make the team a success. "It takes a village to produce a championship team," said Wahler.
They recognized the support offered by the school, the efforts of Athletic Director Matt Yost and Judi Beckerleg who tended to innumerable details, the Booster Club which helped fund overnight trips, the school maintenance staff for helping keep the field in shape for practice and the bus drivers who took the team to the far reaches of the state.
Also receiving thanks were community businesses, including Xanterra and Delaware North, as well as Verkamp's which provided a pizza party after the team's return from state.
Former coach Annie Phillips, who still works with the distance runners, also thanked McGinnis and Wahler for giving her the opportunity to stay connected with the team.
"When I had to stop coaching, it was traumatic," she said. "But these two have allowed me to stay involved. I don't know if I could bear it if I could not have been."
McGinnis said Phillips was instrumental in training distance runners.
"We could send them out knowing Annie would be with them," she said.