St. Augustine Catholic senior Nico Montañez has yet to win a state championship, but the way he sees it, there's plenty of time.
"Now is my time to shine," he proclaimed after winning his Division IV sectional on Saturday in Marana. "Nothing (other than a title) will do."
Montañez finished in 17 minutes 4.2 seconds, a time good enough to beat his closest competitor, Pusch Ridge's Kyle Cajero, by 36.5 seconds, yet 30 seconds slower than his time on the same course just three weeks ago.
"I realized it's so much harder running it by yourself," Montañez said, referring to his massive lead. "I had (Rincon/University's) Ryan Silva and (Sabino's) Tyler Stamp to run with at the Rattler Invitational, and it was so much easier."
Montañez, who helped his team finish second with 87 points to Thatcher (85 points) and qualified for state, should not have the same problem next weekend in Phoenix. There, he'll battle runners from Keams Canyon Hopi, a team that has won 21 consecutive team state titles. He has raced against Hopi twice this season and won both times.
"I love the state course," he said. "It's a true cross country course, I think. We'll see who has more at the end, me or those Hopi kids."
It's a similar story on the girls side of Division IV, where Pusch Ridge won its sectional Saturday. The Hopi girls have won 19 titles since 1987, including four straight.
The Lions' performance was impressive. Junior Sarah Macdonald (19:57.5) won for the third consecutive year, leading a squad that placed five runners in the top eight. Pusch Ridge (24 points) finished ahead of Tanque Verde (86) and Thatcher (108).
Lions freshman Grace Johnson was second. Not bad for her first try at the course.
"I was really nervous for this race," she said. "I couldn't fall asleep last night."
Macdonald tried to help.
"Most of the time, she's calming me down and reminding me to run fierce," Johnson said.
Macdonald, who will aim for her first title next weekend, said she used Saturday's race as "practice" for state.
"Hopefully, I'll at least be in the top three," she said.