When Marley Henson finished her first high school state meet in 2009, a 26th-place finish for Rio Rico, current teammate Allie Schadler was halfway through fifth grade.
Four years later, the two form one of the best duos entering the Division III state meet. They’ll give the Hawks a chance to take home the girls team championship at the Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix on Saturday.
“They make really nice bookends, and Marley’s been an outstanding role model for her,” said Rio Rico coach Stephen Schadler, Allie’s father. “It’s been a blessing. I couldn’t have asked for a better combination.”
The younger half of the duo, 14-year-old Allie, hasn’t waited long to make her impact with the Hawks. She comfortably won at both the Chandler and Rattler invitationals and took first place in sectionals by more than a minute.
Her preseason goal of medaling in the state meet has now shifted to winning it. And after separating from the pack to take a large lead throughout the final two miles of sectionals last weekend, something she hadn’t done all season, Allie said she has a “pretty good chance of winning” a title.
Especially since she thinks her age can catch the opposition by surprise.
“No one really knows me yet, so they don’t know what to expect,” Allie said. “So I just run my race, and I show them.”
Henson’s story is almost the exact opposite.
The 18-year-old qualified for state her first three years, including a fifth-place finish as a junior in 2011. But she spent last year in Argentina as part of a rotary youth exchange, a trip that she said included some of the greatest experiences of her life, and is now back at Rio Rico to finish up her high school career.
Henson didn’t train in South America like she did with the Hawks, and the return to competition was “a big shock” to her body.
“In the beginning of the season, it was hard,” she said.
While Henson said the transition back to high school life has been difficult, both personally and on the course, her second-place finish at sectionals has the senior feeling as if she’s finally made it back to her previous peak level.
The Hawks title chances don’t rest on just the top two, as Rio Rico had all six runners finish in the top 10 at sectionals, including freshman Halle Dewitt (fourth) and Marielena Valencia (fifth). Their finish was good enough to beat out the Hawks’ boys team, the defending Division III state champions, for the first time all season.
The girls (19 points) didn’t have much wiggle room, though, as the boys (21) finished 1-2-3 with juniors Oscar Amaya and Carlos Villarreal and senior Ben Noriega, respectively.
“We wanted to try and make a statement that we’re ready for next week because we know everyone will be ready for next week, too,” Stephen Schadler said after sectionals. “We wanted both the boys and girls teams to not take anything for granted — this is championship season and you have to bring your ‘A’ game from here on out.”