It'd be easy to get lost in the shuffle of runners at Ironwood Ridge High School.
The program has high standards. "Our goal is always the same … to win the state championship," said coach Gary Forrest.
Nighthawk Steve Magnuson is one of the best distance runners in the country. Sarah Miville is among the best distance runners in Arizona. Everyone pushes one another.
Ironwood Ridge produced two winners and plenty of state qualifiers at the recent Willie Williams Invitational. Magnuson won the 1,600 meters in 4:22.65. The other champion was a long-distance girl who may have done better than expected.
Junior Lauren Cooper won the 3,200 meters with a time of 11:37.86, and finished second in the 1,600 meters with a time of 5:19.3.
Was she amazed by her victory?
"Yes, I was surprised," Cooper said. "I would like to win at state."
Forrest wasn't so surprised.
"Lauren has been working very hard," Forrest said. "She's one of the hardest-working kids I've ever been around."
Cooper thrived as well in the relays, helping the Nighthawks win the 4-by-800 and take fourth in the 4-by-100.
She feels lucky to be a part of such a strong program.
"Steve Magnuson pushes the team a lot," Cooper said. "It (his presence) encourages a lot of our runners to go faster."
Forrest "works us really hard. He encourages us and believes in us a lot."
Cooper, like Forrest, has high hopes for this year's Nighthawks.
"I know we've had a lot of injuries," Cooper said. "Allison Crawford, and also some to our sprinters. Hopefully, we'll win state again this year."
Who's a runner that impresses Cooper?
"Jessica Tonn is the best girl's runner in the state. She can run faster than I can even dream of."
But there is a dream that Cooper is working toward.
"I'm going to work hard and listen to coach Forrest," Cooper said. "To run around a 5-minute mile, I hope."
Now Cooper, Magnuson and the Nighthawks are focusing on state.
"We're excited about all our state qualifiers," Cooper said. "That was our first big invitational."
Other girls joining Cooper at state are Abby Barbera, Cami Barbera, Jaclyn Zibrat, Melanie Zibrat, Sarah Miville, Lauren Laszczak and Katie Bradford.
For the boys, other Nighthawks going to state with Magnuson, are Adrian Brahler, Trevor Wesley, John Winfield and Shane Bostick.
The 5A-II state championships are being held May 12 and May 15 at Mesa Community College.