Buckeye’s Odyssey Middle School cross-country program ran the table at the Great Hearts Middle School League Championships on Nov. 9, with both boys’ and girls’ teams taking home first-place prizes.
In the 2.1-mile run, Odyssey’s boys’ and girls’ teams finished ahead of 11 other schools in the Great Hearts League. Both cross-country teams finished in first place for the second time in as many seasons.
Odyssey also had an impressive showing in the individual boys’ and girls’ races. In the boys’ race, eighth-grader Brayden Levander finished first out of 66 runners with a time of 12:00.39. Three other Minotaurs had top-ten finishes, including eighth-graders Dallin Snider and Curtis Cozzens and seventh-grader Raul Andrade.
Two other Odyssey girls finish in the top ten of their respective race, including eighth-grader Ilaria Rodriguez and seventh-grader Aryana Lovett.
In total, the Minotaurs had six runners medal, thanks to their top-ten finishes.
Team scores are calculated through the times of the first five runners who complete the race and then added up. Odyssey’s boys finished with a team score of 36, well ahead of the next-closest school at 70. The girls narrowly won their race, with a score of 57 and Chandler Preparatory Academy trailing closely behind at 64.
Head coach James Zavala and his assistant coach, Deanna Dechon, were impressed by what their runners achieved all season long.
“We’ve been pretty consistent, boys and girls,” Zavala said.
The Minotaurs began their season in August, starting it in a similar fashion to how they would end it. Their girls won the first meet – and every single meet afterward – and the boys, without their No. 1 runner Levander, just missed out on first place.
It marked the only meet the boys’ team would lose this season.
So, come league championship time, the Minotaurs were strong favorites to repeat as Great Hearts League Champions, and they ran to victory.
Zavala, now in his fourth year as the school’s cross-country head coach, credited the reason for his exceptional program to the work the kids put in the off-season months.
“They’re very determined,” he said. “Even after the season, they go join these club sports. We get them back and they’re even better than they were last year, without us even doing anything.”
Dechon laughed, and said, “We really did keep getting lucky,” in reference to the constant talent flowing through the program.
Zavala, a college student working at his family’s company, discovered a love of coaching, and teaching, through his time working with the Odyssey cross-country teams, so much so he’s redirected his career plans around it.
“I absolutely love it. I was wanting to be a police officer, but being around these kids all the time changed that. Now, I’m heading toward becoming a P.E. (physical education) teacher for middle school, so I can keep coaching.
“I just love it so much.”
And Dechon shares those sentiments, too, as working at a Scottsdale hospital makes for busy days and long commutes, but racing back to Odyssey after work “brightens up your day.”
And it makes it even more enjoyable the Minotaurs established themselves as perennial contenders for the top school in the Great Hearts League.
“They just keep getting better and better,” Zavala said.