Oree Foster
Staff Writer, AZPreps365.com

St. Michael Lady Cardinals poised to make run at title

November 7, 2018 by Oree Foster, AZPreps365

After finishing third at last year's Division IV cross country state championships, the St. Michael Lady Cardinals are a year older, stronger and ready to make a serious run at Saturday;s title.

Individually, the Lady Cardinals' top runner, Aliandrea Upshaw, crossed the finish line in second place last year at state.

"I know both of these races, individually and team-wise, made us stronger and they've all grown from these experiences," St. Michael head coach Kelly Bia said. "Coming up short can be a blessing in diguise, if used correctly. I am hoping as coach that what we've done the experience will make us better and learn."

Bia said that if the team members are not learning and stepping outside their comfort zone, the runners are not growing.

"If we are not growing, we are not improving, and if we are not improving, then what is the point," Bia said. "This is just not in the running world, but how these student-athletes look at life, college and their interactions with other people. Running is a lot life. Work hard, be dedicated, accountable, make sacrifices and in the end, what you put into it is what you get out of it. Their parents aren't running and neither are their classmates or their coaches. It's them making the commitment to be the best they can be."

Bia said the Lady Cardinals regular season went well.

"We've had our ups and downs as a team, but the young ladies are learning about themselves and their running," she said. "We try to get to the bigger meets off the Navajo reservation to test ourselves on the courses and against different competition. Not everyone medals in the bigger meets, but learning to run in crowds and against athletes that are better than you to push yourself is crucial in growth."

She said continually challenging them is important in the Lady Cardinals' program.

"Trying to get them out of their comfort zone is important," Bia explained. "We may not place in bigger meets, but in my opinion, we learn more from racing in these meets than placing in the smaller meets."

St. Michael nailed down the Division IV, Section III championship last Friday with 35 points. Bia said the Lady Cardinals raced to expectations.

"The Sectional championships this past weekend was a great accomplishment for the young ladies, after placing second last year," she said. "There is improvement. I was more proud with our top five young ladies, getting in the top 14 places. That's been a goal of ours the whole season. If we did that and ran well, the sectional championships takes care of itself. They all ran well and I want them to enjoy that moment, because come Monday, we must re-focus our attendtion on the task coming up on Saturday."

Junior Aliandrea Upshaw nailed down the individual championship, touring the 5K course in 18:34.

Sophomore Chiara Holgate turned in a 21:11 for fifth place.

Sophomore Lynelle Slim crossed the finish line in 22:03 for eighth place. Sophomore Auri Quintana finished ninth, posting a 22:10. Sophomore Ashley Phillips rounded out the team scoring for the Lady Cardinals, completing the race in 22:40 for 12th place. Senior Amaya Stuefan clocked a 25:42 for 35th place.

Bia said the six runners, who competed last Friday will again compete in the state meet. Bia said Briana Williams did not race last Friday, due to a cold.

"All student-athletes are very good about staying eligible and striving to be best student-athletes they can be," Bia explained. "At St. Michael education is the main reason parents send their children to the school. So being the best student-athletes they can be is always our goal. Yes, more of the young ladies are injury-free. We've had a few who some tendonitis here and there, but as of right now we are injury-free."

Bia said the Lady Cardinals are producing and peaking at the right time.

"I think we are getting there," Bia said about the team peaking. "Right now they are in the best physical shape they are ever going to be in at this time of the season. So the mentality is the key going into this weekend. We'll have to run as a team, third through fifth must be close together and move together. Our first and second runners lead us from the front of the pack. Our sixth and seventh runners have to move forward in case of a tie. So all seven are very important. All seven will need to run the best race for themselves."

Bia said Upshaw started off well in the postseason after claiming the sectional championship.

"It was good to see her come out of her small slump she was in and hopefully showed her that she is capable of accomplishing many things when she sets her mind to it," Bia said. "We made adjustments as coaches and she made adjustments as a student-athlete. Growing and learning is important in our program, so challenging and trying to put them in situations to adapt and change is really important for us. She did that all season. So to see her run tough, I was happy for her. She had her race plan set and followed through."

She said Hopi and Chandler Prep are teams to watch at the state meet.

Individually, in addition to Lady Cardinals' Upshaw, Pinon'd Precious Robinson, Chandler Prep's Olivia Mountain and Upshaw's teammate, Chiara Holgate, are runners to watch.

Bia said the state meet course is ideal. She said the team is looking forward to competiting.

"The course is hilly golf course," she said. "So it's a nice race to run on. The heat is a factor. This year we ran in the morning, so it is a bit cooler than running at one in the afternoon, as we did two years before. Having them understand we are coming down in elevation. That's a plus and that is to our advantage physically and mentally. Always trying to turn a challenge into a positive, there is always a positive side to every negative and vice versa."