RIO RICO - Rio Rico cross country coach Stephen Schadler thinks he has the top four runners in the state.
He might be right.
The Hawks finished second at the boys Division III state meet last year and have four runners in the top 13 of Division III's best times this season. Rio Rico's Ben Noriega and Robert Contreras are currently first and second, respectively.
"I think our top four can run with anybody in the state," Schadler said.
Rio Rico will return to the Marana course Saturday for the first time since winning the Division III, Section II meet in a landslide last October.
Here's a look at the team's top four runners and what Schadler has to say about each one:
Ben Noriega, Jr.
2012 seeding: 16:26, No. 1 in Division III
2011 state time: 16:20.98, seventh place
5k personal record: 16:15
Longest run: 12 miles
Season goal: "I want to try and break 16 minutes and do the best I can individually so the team can have a better chance of winning state."
Highlight of last season: "State. I feel that the environment there makes me want to push even more and do better than I know I can do."
Coach said it: "Ben is a very quiet fighter. He's looking at West Point so he's a driven kid but he's quiet, almost shy. But when the race goes off he's going to fight to the very end."
Robert Contreras, Sr.
2012 seeding: 16:27, No. 2 in Division III
2011 state time: 16:16.28, sixth place
5k personal record: 16:08
Longest run: 19 miles
Season goal: "I'm not focusing much on time but probably under 16. I just have goals like being a good runner and beating my opponents."
Key to winning state: "All of us have to put it together on that day. We can't finish it and say, 'I could have done better.' If we do our best in that race, we'll do it."
Coach said it: "He's very determined and committed and probably one of the hardest-working athletes I've ever worked with."
Oscar Amaya, So.
2012 seeding: 17:06, No. 7 in Division III
2011 state time: 18:04.09, 58th place
5k personal record: 17:06
Longest run: 15 miles
Season goal: "Place at state and run under 16."
Favorite course: "The Chandler Invitational, it's at Tumbleweed Park. It goes from grass to pavement to dirt."
Coach said it: "He is a bit free-spirited and green, but he's getting better every day."
Lee Jones, Sr.
2012 seeding: 17:22, No. 13 in Division III
2011 state time: 16:55.41, 18th place
5k personal record: 16:14
Longest run: 17 miles
Season goal: "Break 16 and be up there in state to help the team win."
Pre-race ritual: "Right before the race we all put our heads together and say, 'Hoka hey' which means 'It's a good day to die.' It's an old Indian saying."
Coach said it: "He is very serious as an athlete. He's a student of running and know statistics better than anyone on the team. He's a fan of the sport and has a studious approach to his training."