Deer Valley sophomore Randy Espinoza and Sunrise Mountain junior Braedon Palmer have distanced themselves from the rest of Arizona’s division 2 in the 3,200-meter dash this season.
Their paths have been very similar. They both played other sports for many years – Palmer played baseball throughout childhood while Espinoza was a competitive gymnast – and realized they could be special runners at the high-school level.
Now, they are two of the state’s top runners, and both have years left to improve.
Sunrise Mountain coach Scott Hereder said Palmer not only excels as an athlete, but has also become a leader for the Mustangs on and off the track.
“He is great, and he’s one of my captains that has been really helpful this season,” Hereder said. “And you can see it, a lot of the other kids look up to him.”
Deer Valley coach Kevin Riegle saw Espinoza’s potential as early as middle school. Blessed with talent, Riegle is most impressed that the sophomore is one of few who have not rested on past success and train hard every day.
“You don’t always see that. A lot of times the guys that come in with the most talent don’t always give it 100%. He’s a guy who we knew early could be really good, and he’s also worked for it,” Riegle said.
Espinoza had the top 3,200 time in division 2, according to AIA statistics, finishing at 9:19.80 at the Chandler Rotary Invitational in March. Palmer was right at his heels, clocking 9:20.82 at the same meet.
While both runners are considered the favorites in May’s AIA Track and Field State Championships, their rivalry on the track has not caused a fractured relationship. In fact, Palmer and Espinoza are good friends, competing in many of the same events in the West Valley and attending the same church on Sundays.
Observers can see the pair chatting and exchanging jokes at the starting line before races, and also cheering the other on when they are not directly competing.
The two are aiming to capture the state title, and know the other is standing in their way. The constant shadow of an equally talented and motivated rival has motivated both to keep improving.
“He’s beaten me, like he did in Chandler, but having him there makes me a better runner, because I get to see what he’s doing and I have someone to compare to,” Palmer said.
The same can be said for Espinoza, who sees Palmer right on his tail.
“I know how hard he’s working, so I know I have to be doing the same or he’s going to beat me, and I don’t want to let that happen,” he said.
Both runners feel they have not yet achieved their best times this season, and hope to vastly improve their times by the end of the semester.
Both because of and despite their close friendship, Espinoza and Palmer have created a rivalry that would make winning a gold medal this season feel even sweeter.
“It would be amazing if I can win at state and even better if I can beat him,” Palmer said. “But, I know he’s feeling the exact same.”