1. Dani Jones (Desert Vista, 2015)
In the first half of the decade, we watched Dani Jones' steady improvement from State Champion miler to a national powerhouse across every running event. After winning the D1 Girls' 1600m at the Track and Field State Meet as a sophomore, she moved on to dominate the cross-country season later that year. Her high school cross-country career culminated her senior year, when she ran the fastest performance on record by an Arizona girl, set the course record at Cave Creek Golf Course, and finished third at Nike Cross Nationals.
There were many factors that contributed to Dani Jones' success as a national caliber athlete. She had a strong support system of friends, family, and coaches that believed in her and among those was her coach Dr. Jeffrey Messer who refused to set any limits or suggest any concrete goals with respect to what she and her teammates could do in races. In a piece by MaxPreps.com, Messer was quoted saying, "Society, sometimes peers, professionals around us can impose limits. If you refuse to accept them, don't accept them, don't acknowledge them and realize what you do on the last lap is only constrained if you constrain it." When Dani Jones toed the line, we knew that anything was possible.
At the end of the day, despite what many spectators might think, Dani shows that there is no secret. There's no special sauce, no secret weapon, or magic workout that provides the shortcut to greatness. It's simply the perfect combination of a genetic predisposition to aerobic running, a fantastic support system, and boundless self-belief. Like many athletes on these lists, her commitment to the process and excellence at every level was unwavering, as was her determination to give the very best she could in any given race.
2. Allie Schadler (Rio Rico, 2017)
If there's one girl who (ARGUABLY) gives Dani Jones a run for the number one spot on this list it's Allie Schadler. Similar to Dani Jones, Allie was a strong miler with speed that carried over to cross-country. During all four years of high school, Schadler finished among the top four in the Desert Twilight Sweepstakes Race and won the race as a Senior. During her high school career, she ran two performances under 17-minutes and set the Cave Creek Golf Course Record twice!
Stephen Schadler is Allie and Sam's father and Rio Rico's Head Cross-Country Coach. Schadler set the framework for some of the greatest athletes we've seen in state history. However, their respective goals and how hard they felt they could push themselves at any given point were left entirely up to them. "I tried very hard to let the girls see what their possibilities were outside of Rio Rico but let them set their own goals as to how far they wanted to go," said Coach Schadler. "They both set very high aspirations for themselves and were willing to work really hard to achieve them."
Allie was incredibly tough and knew how to run down the competition at just the right time. She set clear goals and pursued them fearlessly. No matter where she ran, even if she came up short, it was sure to be one of the greatest performances by an Arizona girl.
3. Abi Archer (Chaparral, 2019)
Unlike many girls on this list, Archer was a long-distance specialist through and through. As a sophomore and junior Archer won back-to-back D2 State Titles. As a Senior, she came within just seconds of the 17-minute mark at Desert Twilight to while finishing second to Quinn McConnell. She then proceeded to dominate the D1 Girls Race, as Chaparral was reclassified as a Division I School. Archer qualified for Nike Cross Nationals and then defied all expectations by finishing 11th among the fastest girls in the nation.
Gatorade obtained a quote from Chaparral head coach Rob Reniewicki, when Archer was awarded the as Gatorade's Arizona Runner of the Year. "Abi is a student of the sport who progressed into becoming a star athlete," said Chaparral head coach Rob Reniewicki. "She excels in races no matter what conditions or race tactics arise, and she always gives her best."
Abi Archer found her niche as a longer-distance specialist and she's demonstrated that the longer the race is, the better she can hang with the best of them over the long haul.
4. Samantha Schadler (Rio Rico, 2019)
While Sammy Schadler wasn't breaking records left and right like her elder sister, she has certainly secured her place on this list as one of Arizona's All-Time greats. As a senior, Samantha finished 6th in the Sweepstakes race, which at the time was the second fastest 3-mile performance by an Arizona girl. As a Senior, she won the Nike Southwest Regional with her fastest career performance along the Grande Sports Academy course. She then capped off her high school cross-country career with an All-American run at Nike Cross Nationals.
Just like with her sister, Coach Schadler said he, "felt it was very important that they push themselves and not run out of any sense of obligation. They were also both willing to confront whatever internal fears they encountered."
Throughout her career, Samantha got know her strengths and figured out how to play to them at the right time, making her a formidable competitor.
5. Lauren Ping (Desert Vista, 2023)
Though she's only run one season for Arizona, her performances have left an undeniable impact for the Grand Canyon State. From the second we heard that the Ping sisters would transfer to Arizona it became clear that Lauren would likely be the fastest freshman ever on Arizona soil.
In September, Ping ran 16:09.80 at the Woodbridge Classic, the fastest ever 3-Mile time on record by an Arizona girl and then less than a week later, she finished second at Desert Twilight behind Jenna Hutchins to clock in at 16:49.13, the third fastest 5km performance by an Arizona girl.
Though some might argue that Lauren has only run one season for Desert Vista and will likely play a significantly bigger role for the next three years of Arizona running, we contend that the decade ended with her having shaped Arizona running for the better.
6. Maya Smith (Northland Preparatory Academy, 2018)
As a freshman, Maya Smith beat veterans Amber Miller, Corrin Kallinich, and Natalie Cox for the D4 State Title and would dominate the D4 Girls race for the next three years. She's is the only girl from a Division IV school to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals, and is probably the fastest girl from among smallest schools in Arizona history. In addition to garnering individual victories, Smith spearheaded her team to the D4 Team Title at three out of her four showings at States.
Like a few girls on this list, Maya knew her skillset well and knew how to play to her strengths. However, unlike many of her peers, she decided to forgo her track seasons in order to focus on developing her strength by training for 10K races. With four State Titles to her name and a 32nd place finish at Nationals, Smith was able to say that she went out on top and on her terms.
Hana came to Arizona as a junior and made a giant splash during the 2018 season. She handily won the D2 Girls Race at States and then a week later finished second at the Nike Southwest Regional. This year, she was once again ranked as the fastest among Division 2 girls. As a senior, she holds PRs of 17:14, back-to-back State Titles, back-to-back Section Titles, and has qualified for Nike Cross Nationals.
Hana Hall is truly a student of the sport. Four years ago, she could barely make it a full lap around a 400-meter track. As a senior at Flagstaff HS and the oldest of the Hall daughters, Hana very much cares about leading by example while also being a part of the community with her fellow Eagles, and it shows in her performances. To have accomplished as much as she has, took some genuine hard work and discipline.
With her high school cross-country career for Flagstaff H.S. over, we can't wait for what's to come this track season and beyond, when she changes into Grand Canyon University colors.