Desert Christian reaches summit

FRESNO – Moments after the last Desert Christian High School cross country runner crossed the finish line at the CIF State Championships on Saturday, the entire team came together for a prayer. Some felt confident they had won the title, while others wanted to see the official results posted on the CIF website before celebrating.

For 10 minutes, several runners on the team refreshed the results page of the website on their phones, anxiously awaiting word on whether they could call themselves state champions or leave Woodward Park in crushing disappointment.

Then the team and those around them let out an uproarious cheer. Head coach Andy Visokey started crying and bellowed, “Oh my God, thank you God.” Senior Andrew Mitchell jumped on a teammate in jubilance.

At that point, it became official.

After eight consecutive years of qualifying but coming up short, the Knights won the Division 5 state championship. The team scored 70 points – 33 less than second-place Flintridge Prep – with its team time of 1 hour, 21 minutes and 7 seconds.

Mitchell came in fourth overall with a 15:43.4, and finished first for the Knights. Senior Joseph Biehl finished eighth overall – second among Desert Christian runners – with his time of 15:49.9.

The celebration of the school’s first-ever state championship continued well after the results came in, with the team taking a bevy of pictures with each other, coaches, family and other team members. At the official trophy ceremony, Visokey gave one last speech about the team, praising them for their hard work over the years.

Even over two hours after the race was done and the trophy and medals long handed out, senior Nicolas Boffman stood in disbelief.

“It really hasn’t even sunk in it yet for me,” said Boffman, who finished 18th overall and third among his teammates with a 16:16.9. “But I know it’s going to feel amazing. It’s bittersweet – that’s my last cross country race in high school. But I think it’s the best way to go out.”

Senior Kevin Pacheco said he felt overwhelmed when he saw the final results, and “even cried a little bit.”

In 2013, Desert Christian placed ninth in the state championship race. In 2014, it finished fifth. Last season, third.

Only Boffman and Biehl know the feeling of coming up short for their entire high school careers. Sophomores Ethan Laubach and Chris Gonzales have only had to deal with the last two seasons of losing finishes.

Laubach said he felt very nervous on the starting line and worried about whether he would let down the team. He ended up 23rd overall with a time of 16:26.0 and fourth among his team.

“As soon as I heard we got first and won, a huge amount of relief went through me,” Laubach said.

But for Visokey, this state title was 10 years in the making. He left his life in politics to coach the Knights, and felt validated on Saturday.

“This meant the world to me,” Visokey said, adding that he was “very beat up physically” after taking a tumble in a Thanksgiving flag football game, but felt no pain in the win’s aftermath. “This is a glorious day.”

Senior Joseph DeVore has been an alternate in every previous state championship run, but his number was called this year to race. He felt happy to be part of the victory this time around.

“The fact that I can just say I was on the team and I did run (on) the team when we won state, it’s just awesome,” DeVore said. “It’s like my hard work paid off.”

Each runner said they felt happy for Visokey, praising him for his years of dedication to and sacrifice for the team. A few boys said they felt happier for him more than anything else.

Visokey said the boys made him promise to come back and coach next season.

“It’s too tempting to stick around,” Visokey said. “This feels too good.”

That good feeling looks like it will stick around for years to come, especially after so many seasons that the school has tried to make the dream of a state championship in cross country a reality.

Boffman said half-jokingly to Visokey on Friday night that the eighth time is the charm. It looks like it wasn’t a joke after all.

Mitchell and Biehl went into Saturday’s championship race with their plans after high school already set. The two seniors recently signed with Grand Canyon University on partial scholarships.

If Mitchell and Biehl finish in the top 10 at the Footlocker West Regional Cross Country Championships on Dec. 3, they will be awarded a full scholarship to the university. Finishing in the top 10 will also advance them to the national championships on Dec. 10.

Central Section Results
Two other Antelope Valley teams competed at the CIF State Championships on Saturday.

The Rosamond girls team placed 23rd in Division 4 with a total time of 1:50:24. Junior Skylar Bokelman of California City competed as an individual in Division 5 and finished 110th with a time of 17:37.1.