Boys teams to watch
Desert Vista: The favorite to win the Division I title, the Thunder are deep and experienced. Leading the way will be a group of juniors, led by Ryan Dykstra, Carter Macey, Ryan Smith, Tyler Bonebright and Zach Smith. The Thunder always have huge numbers on the squad, so depth is rarely an issue.
Mountain View: While Desert Vista is a junior-dominated squad, the Toros are led by their seniors. Dallin Gherkins, Brandon Wheat and R.J. Massey make up arguably the best trio in the state, but they’ll need for their teammates to step up if they want to get past the Thunder.
Highland: The Hawks never seem to be at a loss for fast runners. This year, they will be led by senior David Graham, who led the state with a time of 1 minute, 54 seconds in the 800 last spring. Juniors Logan Woolf and Alex Fabiano are also solid.
Corona del Sol: The Aztecs graduated five of the seven runners from their state meet team of a year ago, but they return their No. 2 runner from that team, junior Jake Whitney. Joining Whitney this year will be Nathan Rodriguez, who transferred from Williams Field. Rodriguez and Whitney will be a formidable duo.
Red Mountain: Perhaps not ready to compete with the Mountain Views and Desert Vistas in Division I, but the Lions will be much-improved from the team that finished 18th last year. Andrew Marriott, Connor Carlson, Chandler Galledo and Justin Smith make up the core of the up-and-coming program.
Girls teams to watch
Xavier: The Gators, by Arizona standards, are scary good, but they are hoping to build and do what the Chandler girls track team has done on a national level. Just a junior, Sarah Fakler will be looking for her second straight state title and is surrounded by dependable teammates.
Highland: The Hawks return all of their runners from a fourth-place team at state a year ago and will be right in the fight for a trophy at the state meet. The Hawks’ top five is made up of three seniors (Tory Haberman, Imani Heath and Emily Shaw) and a pair of juniors (Kristy Rush and Maddie Riggs).
Desert Vista: Brittany Tretbar was a bit of a surprise last year when she placed third at the state meet, but the junior won’t sneak up on anyone this year. She leads a relatively young squad that includes junior Natalie Kraft, sophomore Danielle Owens and freshman Danielle Jones.
Tempe: Another team that is poised to make a huge leap up the final standings when the season ends in November. The Buffaloes have a standout No. 1 in senior Leticia Shaban (placed 12th in Div. III last year) and a tight-knit group of runners behind her.
Mountain View: The Toros will once again be quite good, with senior Brianna Decker leading the way. Decker and juniors Billie Dytrt, Angela Ellsworth and Erica Adams are all strong.
Boys runners to watch
Colton Cave, Sr., Apache Junction: Could be the runner who comes from seemingly out of nowhere to finish close to the top in some of the big races this year. He had an outstanding offseason and is already seeing the benefits, placing 17th at the first meet of the season and dropping more than two minutes from what he ran in the same meet last year.
Ryan Dykstra and Carter Macey, Jrs., Desert Vista: For the Thunder, these two are No. 1 and 1A and if they live up to their potential, Desert Vista will be tough to beat. Dykstra was 10th at state last year and Macey 17th, and both have top-5 finishes in their sights this year.
Dallin Gherkins, Sr., Mountain View: It’s tough to pick just one of the Toros to watch, but Gherkins appears poised to do some great things this year. He was 21st last year in Division I but has put in the kind of work that might get him into the lead pack this year.
Nathan Rodriguez, So., Corona del Sol: Rodriguez was the top freshman in the state last year and that was while having little in terms of training partners at Williams Field, where he was far and away the best runner on the team. At Corona, Rodriguez will have teammates like Jake Whitney to train with and that should lead to vast improvement.
Jake Wynn, Jr., Saguaro: Wynn is the fourth member of his family to be a part of the Sabercats’ track and cross country programs (family has won a total of 18 state medals in both sports between them) and could be the best. He’ll be a favorite to win the Division III title.
Girls runners to watch
Taylor Delavega, Sr., Perry: It seems like Delavega has been around forever because she’s been a contender each of the past three seasons. She appears ready for great things this year and will be among a small group of favorites in Division II. She was 9th in Div. II last year and six of those who finished ahead of her graduated.
Billie Dytrt, Sr. Mountain View: Placed ninth in Div. I as a junior and is part of a strong pack of runners for the Toros. Off to a good start after placing third in the Sole Sports Running Zone Cross Country Festival last week.
Sarah Fakler, Jr., Xavier: The expectations were sky high for Fakler last year and she mostly delivered. She’s gotten stronger and faster and should have no equal in the state. Nationally, Fakler is hoping to make some waves individually and get a spot in the Foot Locker Nationals.
Tory Haberman, Sr., Highland: Was the Hawks’ most consistent performer last year despite being relatively inexperienced in cross country and really got stronger as the year progressed. Haberman is strong and has good end-of-race speed that could propel her into the top five this year in Division I.
Dani Lemieux, Sr., Corona del Sol: Like Delavega, Lemieux is one of those runners who seem to be in her 10th year of high school. Lemieux was 17th at state last year and has top-10 potential.
Leticia Shaban, Sr., Tempe: Is the leader of an up-and-coming Tempe team. She led a strong offseason of training and could see all of that hard work pay off at state, where she has the capability to be a top-5 finisher in Division III.
Other runners to watch
Basha — Matt Pena, Jr.; Brophy — Brock Ghelfi; Cactus Shadows — Ethan Homan; Corona del Sol — Jake Whitney, Jr.; Cody Jackson, Jr.; Ryan Normand, So.; Desert Mountain — Matti Groll, Jr.; Desert Ridge — Brent Russon, Sr.; Gilbert Christian — Matt Pond, Sr.; Higley — Brennen Barfuss, So.; Marcos de Niza — Victor Lopez, Julio Felix; McClintock — Eduardo Roa, Sr.; Notre Dame — Flynn Stewart, Jr.; Perry — Patrick Hardwick, Sr.; Gunnar Albrecht, So.; Queen Creek — Alec Moore, Jr.; Saguaro — Juan Cortes, So.; Skyline — Jose Retana, Sr.; Williams Field — Ben Chapman, Jr.
Apache Junction — Caitlin Kessler, Sr.; Basha — Courtney Goodrich, So.; Cactus Shadows — Terri Baker, Jr.; Chandler — Megan Mahalovich; Corona del Sol — Hallie Swenson, Jr.; Desert Mountain — Conley Marquez, Fr.; Desert Ridge — Aliya Shirif, Sr.; Lauren Clark, Sr.; Rachael Clark, So.; Gilbert Christian — Katelyn Moses, Sr.; Hamilton — Xury Deputy, So.; Higley — Madison Harrison, So.; Marcos de Niza — Paige Libsack; Mesa — Sabreena Beck, Sr.; Emma Bradshaw, Sr.; Mesquite — Rachel Johnston, So.; Mountain Pointe — Franceska Olguin, So.; Pinnacle — Sydney Mierau, Jr.; Queen Creek — Rachel Arnold, Sr.; Red Mountain — Taryn Estavillo, Sr.; Saguaro — Nicole Jakubczyk, Sr.; Olivia Brancati, Sr.; Tempe — Diana Garcia, Jr.
Sept. 10, Chandler Invitational: In its 17th year, this meet offers quality competition for all the runners on a team. There are eight separate races, divided by year and gender, which gives fans a look at who the top runners are at each grade level.
Sept. 24, Los Mezquites Invitational and the Ojo Rojo Invitational: The Los Mezquites race in Tucson is a popular one among Valley teams, while the Ojo Rojo has enjoyed 24 years of success.
Sept. 30, Desert Twilight XC Festival: This meet grows each year in popularity and draws the best teams from the state. The athletes love the feel of running under the lights and the raucous atmosphere is unlike any other race of the season.
Oct. 15, Doug Conley Invitational: This elite meet moved to Rolling Hills Golf Club in Tempe last year, which is a much tougher course than the old track at Kiwanis Park.
Oct. 28 and 29: Sectionals
Nov. 5: State championships at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix