For the first time since 2008, both Tolleson’s boys and girls teams were victorious at the Tolleson Union High School District Cross Country meet.

The girls scored 23 points, topping La Joya, which had 45, and Phoenix Sierra Linda, 61. Westview and Glendale Copper Canyon had no score.

The boys tallied 40 points, besting Sierra Linda by nine. Westview had 57, while La Joya finished with 68. Copper Canyon didn’t score.

The meet was held Oct. 23 at Western Area Regional Park in Glendale.

“It’s a big deal for them,” coach Pat Riley said of his teams. “It gives our program a lot of momentum. We’ve been trying to build it up for a few years now and this is the first time we’ve had legitimate success. This is the first time we’ve been able to win a big multi-team meet for both the boys and girls.”

The success comes from a lot of hard work put in by the teams. Most of the runners started training in May.

“We’ve never had a group like that, that met through the summer,” Riley said. “That was definitely a big difference for us. Also, we were able to get a lot of kids from our track team. This is really the first time we’ve been able to dig in to that mine of talent.”

Leading the way for the girls at the district meet was Aimee Hernandez, who covered the 3.22-mile course in 23 minutes, 2 seconds, finishing third.

“It means the world to us,” Hernandez said of her team winning the district meet. “It showed that our hours of hard practices paid off. It was an amazing feeling having put in our commitment and dedication. Receiving the big trophy, it topped off our season.”

Hernandez was never a long distance runner before this year, but has really taken a liking to cross country. She’s only a sophomore.

“I was surprised because I do sprints, I’m a hurdler, so I don’t really run three miles, I just wanted to stay in shape and thought I could do it,” Hernandez said. “I needed endurance for my 300 hurdles and so I thought cross country would be perfect, that’s why I did the sport, and I was really proud of myself. Now, I really like it.”

Tolleson also had the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, as Stephanie Hernandez and Rochelle Bryant took those spots, respectively. Stephanie Hernandez finished in 23:42, and Bryant was two seconds behind.

“All year those three have been our top runners, and any day any one of them can be our top runner,” Riley said. “There have been times when Stephanie has been out because of injury and Aimee and Rochelle step right up. It’s almost like we have three No. 1 runners.”

They also help one another out on the course by pushing each other.

“Usually two of us are always together,” Aimee Hernandez said. “We learn each other’s pace and even how we breathe. Having your teammate run behind you motivates you to keep going. It’s nice.”

Kami Finlayson was seventh in 24:48, while Dani Ruiz was 11th in 25:49, rounding out the Lady Wolverines’ top-five.

“Kami has just come on recently,” Riley said. “She was running strong in practice for a long time, but has just put it together in the last couple meets and has become a bigger force for us. She was our sixth- or seventh-best girl at the beginning, and now she’s running top four and really catching those top three.”

Boys team

For the boys, Matt Medrano had Tolleson’s highest finish, coming in fifth in 19:35. Anthony Flores was right behind in sixth at 19:40.

“It [winning district] meant everything to me because I started running my sophomore year and the last two years were pretty rough because our team wasn’t that good, but this year we changed things around and were able to win first place,” Flores said.

Flores is also the team captain. Riley said he wasn’t a very good runner when he first joined the team two years ago, but has made tremendous strides.

“Nobody would ever guess this kid to be a cross country runner, but he really improved a little bit over his first couple years, and this year went to a whole new level,” Riley said. “He’s the first kid we had run over 50 miles a week, occasional two-a-days, and really just blossomed with the extra work. He’s one guy I can trust to always want to do more. He’s been our leader in a lot of ways, both by example and keeping the team together.”

Finishing eighth was Cesar Aguilar, who ran a 19:50, while Joaquin Quezada and Andy Gutierrez were 10th and 11th, respectively, at 20:35 and 20:36.

“Cesar and Matt are sophomores who have probably been our top runners this year,” Riley said. “They haven’t been as consistent as Anthony, but Matt has been our No. 1 runner at most meets, and Cesar has been our top runner a couple of times as well. They’re both guys who did the two mile in track. They were there in the summer every day I was there and did what it took every day to get good. They’re hard workers, do whatever I ask.”

Coming off a victory in the district meet should help propel Tolleson into this week’s sectionals, which are being held at Skunk Creek Landfill in Phoenix. Tolleson competes in Division II, Section 3, which runs at noon and 12:30 p.m. Nov. 2. The top half of finishing teams will make the state tournament.

“Our guys, they have a shot, but I think it’s an outside one,” Riley said. “If I had to predict I think they’d miss it by a spot or two, but with that being said, anything can happen on that day. Last year at sectionals we had some guys step up with great performances, huge PR’s. I would not be surprised to see that happen again, and if it does we’d have a shot.”

Riley really likes the chances of his girls making it to state, he said.

“I think my girls have a good shot as long as they do what they’re supposed to do on race day,” Riley said. “I think they can definitely finish top five, and our goal at state will be hopefully to beat five or 10 teams at state. That would be a pretty big victory for us.”

Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at