The Fountain Hills High School varsity cross country team finished its season on a bittersweet note. Both the boys and girls team were left on the outside looking in on state competition, but they continued to practice to help Erin Hooley and Tyler Irvine-Violette prepare for their individual state runs.

The girls came closest at sectionals to making the cut. The top six teams advanced to state, and Shadow Mountain (sixth) finished with 162 points. The Falcons placed seventh with 169 points and nearly made state as a whole team.

The girls only had five runners, which is the minimum required for a team to qualify. If they had two more girls, they may have been able to bump ahead. Instead, head coach Nick Goodman said he was proud of their effort, especially from freshmen Shannon Breen and Katherine Hampton, who set personal bests at sectionals.

“It’s great, especially for those two who were also playing volleyball,” Goodman said. “They came to me halfway through the season and asked if they could do both. They didn’t have times from the beginning of the season, but they set some times when they came, and they steadily got faster and faster.”

Hooley had an impressive run for the Falcons at sectionals and finished first in the girls competition. She placed 34th in the Division III state championship.

Tyler Irvine-Violette placed 14th at sectionals and 86th at state. The boys were also one team placement away from the state race, but the point differential was 63. Even though neither team qualified, they trained with the students who did go on to state.

“At least the key workout on Monday, three or four others joined Tyler and Erin for pace-specific workouts,” Goodman said. “ I told them ‘Be the carrot.’ The workout was 3x1600, and the other athletes ran a quarter mile to pace them and then rest.”

The Falcons were ready for anything this year and the moment was never too big for them. That’s because the Fountain Hills Invitational on Sept. 11 was the largest invitational in town history, and one of the biggest races all season was in the comfort of the Falcons’ backyard.

“Many of the other big meets we went to were similar in size, so having that as one of the first invitational was a good eye opener,” Goodman said. “It shocked them but opened their eyes and prepared them. Now they’re not intimidated by races.”

Goodman will send out training regiments to his runners who aren’t participating in a winter or spring sport. Goodman also coaches the girls soccer team and the track team, and he will have some familiar faces on those squads. None of the cross country team is graduating this year, so Goodman is excited to return and grow his program. Cross country 5 a.m. workouts will resume next July, and Goodman is looking forward to seeing his Falcons improve their times and finish faster next season.