Ashley Riggs, Sloan Williams, Nicholas Ortiz

Seniors, from left, Ashley Riggs, Sloan Williams and Nicholas Ortiz will help lead the WHS Cross Country girls and boys squads this season.

WILLCOX — An experienced track coach may help overcome obstacles and complacency in the Willcox High Cross Country program this season.

Craig Hamilton has coached track for Willcox the past few seasons and has a cross country runner’s background as he jumps into the long-distance program this fall.

“I found out two weeks ago I was going to be coaching this sport,” Hamilton said. “I ran at the college level and was an assistant at Benson for a couple of years.”

He takes over a program that saw the boys team finish 11th out of 11 teams in sectionals last year, and a girls team that did not field a full team while failing to qualify anyone for state.

“There’s been a general hardship in trying to recruit athletes,” Hamilton said. “Some of it is related to sports fees and some is people not wanting to do it as much as they used to.

“I hope my background as our track coach will help me recruit a few more kids. I put a word out to my distance runners in track; and, hopefully, I’ll get a response.”

It seems to be working as he now has five athletes committed to each sport to field full teams, led by Ana and Alma Barajas for the girls.

“I’m excited. We’ve got some talent and experience coming back to the team. To say we’re rebuilding would be an understatement,” Hamilton said.

Ana and Alma skipped last year after excelling in 2017 and will be joined by returning senior Ashley Riggs as well as youngsters Alison Wilson and Maylee Thompson.

The boys will be led by returning seniors Sloan Williams and Adrian Miraflorez. Hamilton also expects Nicholas Ortiz and JT Garza to help round out the team.

“Once we get going and get the endurance built up here in the early season, I feel we’ll be competitive, and I’m hoping we can make it in the middle of pack in section,” the coach said. “We’re still small. The success of the team will be dependent on everybody staying healthy.”

The teams will open their seasons Tuesday, Sept. 3, at a nine-team meet in Benson, followed by another nine-team meet Sept. 11 at Thatcher.

“I’ve got hope for us,” Hamilton said. “There’s still time for others to join the team, and I’m hopeful we’ll get some more to come out.”

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