PHOENIX - Nico Montanez's emotions were boiling over throughout the day on Saturday and the St. Augustine senior wasn't afraid to admit it.
"I was doing a prayer with my team earlier and all of a sudden I started tearing up because I knew it was my last race and I had to make it happen," Montanez said. "I was crying during the race. I had tears rolling down my face. I just wanted it so bad."
Then, as promised after winning last weekend's sectional in Marana, Montanez delivered. He completed the 3.1 miles at Cave Creek Golf Course in 16 minutes 16.97 seconds, finishing 10.64 seconds ahead of Arizona Lutheran's Josh Hoskinson to win the Division IV boys championship.
For someone who came to St. Augustine as what coach Tim Bentley described as a "last-chance kid" and didn't even race at state his freshman year because he was academically ineligible, Saturday's victory was overwhelming.
"I can't believe it," he said. "I'm so, so happy."
Montanez was trailing Hopi's Domonic Sinquah halfway through the course but surged approaching the two-mile mark. When he didn't feel a response, he decided to kick, distancing himself for good. Certainly, Montanez's adrenaline played a big part in pulling away.
"He's been so focused that the emotions this week have been bubbling up," Bentley said. "He has just such a sincere desire to be great."
For the past three years, Pusch Ridge Christian's Sarah Macdonald has held that same desire. In her freshman state race, Macdonald, now a junior, pushed herself so hard she collapsed 100 yards from the finish line, failing to finish.
Saturday, Macdonald not only crossed the finish line but did so 59 seconds ahead of anyone else.
She came through in 18:55.28, to win the race and lead Pusch Ridge to a second-place team finish behind Hopi, which also won the boys Division IV team race.
"I didn't know I was gonna be that far ahead," Macdonald said.
Surely she must have tired herself out while establishing such a dominant lead.
"No," she said. "I was really comfortable, actually. I was smiling the whole way down the chute."
Macdonald said she looks forward to returning next year to defend her title, as well as challenging Hopi for a team championship.
Fellow junior Ryan Silva from Rincon/University is excited for his senior season, too, after finishing within 11 seconds of a Division I victory Saturday.
Silva was in striking distance of defending champ Bernia Montoya (from Yuma Cibola) for the entire race, notching a time of 15:57.60 and a second-place finish. Last year, Silva was 18th.
"This is actually the first time I've had him within my sights during the race," Silva said of Montoya. "That's helpful to me, to be able to see how he runs. It was an improvement for me."
Silva's senior teammate, Noah Kenyawani, ended his high school cross country career with a sixth-place finish in 16:08.94. Rincon finished sixth as a team.
Southern Arizona's top Division I girl was Rincon's Emily Page, who finished 25th in 19:54.41.