On Wednesday afternoon, we witnessed two incredible 4x800m relay races kick off the running events on Day 1 the AIA Track and Field State Championships. Beginning with Division II boys' race, Casteel led a tight pack between them Desert Mountain, Campo Verde, and Flagstaff all jockeying for position while delivering the baton leg after leg. It was only until Rylan Stubbs (Campo Verde, Sr.) received the baton from his teammate Luke Nicolds (Sr.) that he managed to open the lead over Flagstaff's Riley Human.
Stubbs powered through to deliver the baton in 7:52.41 for the victory and a brand-new school record. Desert Mountain finished runner-up almost four seconds later, followed by Flagstaff, Casteel, and Millennium all under 8-minutes. This marked Campo Verde's first State Title in the 4x800m Relay, after a series of heartbreaking losses for the distance squad in cross-country and on the track. "Groups of boys I have coached have finished state runner-up in the 4x800m, and some years we have missed out on the championship by less than a second," said Campo Verde Head Coach Josh Applebach. "To have a group of boys that could runs so well this year and earn the title was very exciting."
Afterwards came the D1 Boys' 4x800, in which each leg of the Highland Hawks team from last year returned as State Champions looking to expand on their collective performance and run down the State Record. Sam Green (Highland, Jr.) made the race against the clock look easy and didn't even notice the time as he dropped the rest of the field early. "We were going for the State record and we knew that we wouldn't likely be racing with anyone," said Sam. I didn't even care what my splits were. I just went for it."
Ernest took the baton next maintaining the pace and then handing off to Kade Saunders, the only Senior on the team. "Knowing that this was my last race as a Senior, I knew these boys were gonna' give it their best and that they deserved my best."
(Above: Sam Green opened the D1 Boys' 4x800m for Highland.-photo by Harold Smith)
The Hawks' ace, Leo Daschbach anchored the team with a 1:50 split, which sealing the deal for the Hawks to make the first change of the record board at the meet. "I could hear my coach yelling, 'You're going for the State Record', and I thought, 'I know coach.' I brought it in as hard as I could," said Daschbach. Highland's 7:42.16 clocking toppled the previous State record of 7:45.40 held previously by the Desert Vista Thunder, from when the 5A-I Track and Field State Championships were held at their track in 2008.
"I have been in the sport almost 50 years as a runner and coach and that was one of the great moments that I've been part of," said Highland Coach Dave Montgomery. These guys were united since last year to give it their best shot to break the state record. This was their doing. I just steered the ship a bit.
A whopping 15-seconds later, the Mountain View Toros held on to finish runner-up over the Brophy Broncos as the 7th and 8th teams under eight minutes, all recorded within a half-hour at the last meet of the season. Talk about crunch time! Oddly enough, Coach Montgomery influence can be seen in both winners of the boys' 4x800. In the late nineties, Coach Montgomery or 'Coach Monty' as so many refer to him fondly, took over the head coaching position for the Highland team, which included Josh Applebach.
He [Coach Montgomery] took a group of guys with potential to the point where we were contenders for state level championships. In 1999, Applebach aided the Highland Hawks to clinch the State Record at the East Valley Regional Championships. During that whirlwind season, Hawks found themselves in contention with Dobson High School. After setting the state record at Regionals, they went head-to-head with the Mustangs at the State Championships. Ultimately, Dobson would break the record by a fraction of a second and claim the State Title that season.
The Campo Verde Coyotes and the Highland Hawks aren't done yet, and they've each got their eyes set on the standing on the podium for the mid-distances this Saturday. Both Rylan Stubbs and Leo Daschbach won their 3200m races respectively and this Saturday, they will vy for the individual titles in both the 1600m and the 800m for among the largest divisions.
Regardless of the outcome, Coaches Montgomery and Applebach are very proud of the fact that they have had the privilege of coaching some of the best distance runners in State history, right in the town of Gilbert.