No one questions the importance of the Doug Conley Invitational cross country meet.
The degree of importance depends on whom you ask.
“It’s hard to tell which teams put more into it,” Mesa Mountain View girls coach Bill Webster said. “And it’s hard to tell your kids it’s not a big meet, because everyone knows it is.
“No matter what happens, you still have five weeks left in the season.”
Scottsdale Horizon boys coach Mike Gleason admits his team puts more emphasis on this meet than others.
“We rest more during the week leading to the race so we have more energy for the meet,” said Gleason, whose team is led by senior Jim Walmsley, last year’s runner-up.
“If we had a runner who was kind of hurt, but wouldn’t get any more injured during the race, it would be difficult to keep them out of this one.”
The prestigious 5-kilometer meet brings together the top 20 teams in the state — regardless of school size — as well as the top seven individual runners based upon season performances.
At the season’s midpoint, it’s a chance to see the state’s best compete against each other before they begin preparation for their respective region and state meets.
Most coaches try to de-emphasize the importance of the meet. But most of their runners don’t follow the line.
“It’s a very big meet,” said Phoenix Xavier sophomore Jessica Tonn, who was the runner-up at Conley last season. “Of course you want to win state, but winning at Conley is definitely a goal of mine.”
Some coaches like to use the race as a quiz in preparation for the season-ending final exam. It’s a chance to finalize their lineups, get a feel for who is ready for the season’s final push and maybe who needs some more work.
The chance to race against the state’s top talent can be a blessing for schools with smaller enrollments, and a trap for larger schools.
“You know those kids from small schools will be coming at you,” Mountain View boys coach Kyle Sawyer said. “There isn’t as much competition for some schools at their state meets so they really get after it (at Conley).”
The Scottsdale Saguaro girls team earned an invitation to last year’s Conley meet for the first time in nearly 20 years. Coach John Prather was glad for the opportunity.
“It was a chance for us to see that we really could compete at a high level which certainly gave us confidence to keep working toward our state goals,” Prather said.
But as much as the meet can work as a springboard to the rest of the season, there’s also a chance a poor showing could demoralize a team.
“There’s a reason we treat it like any other meet, because you want to build to the end of the season and not peak halfway through,” Webster said.
Doug Conley Invitational
When: Girls race, 8:40 a.m. Saturday; boys race, 9:25 a.m. Saturday
Where: Kiwanis Park, 6111 S. All American Way, Tempe
Field: The top 20 teams in the state will compete
Contact John Mahnke: (480) 898-5904 (Ext. 4) or firstname.lastname@example.org