The high school cross country season opened up last week for most teams in the state.
The usual suspects will field strong teams once again this year, as Xavier’s girls are the overwhelming favorite to win a fourth straight big-school state title and Desert Vista is a strong favorite on the boys side.
What remains unknown at this early stage is who the surprises will be. Last year, Highland finally won its first boys state title after years of top-five finishes. And individual surprises included Saguaro’s Jake Wynn winning the Division III title and Tempe’s Diana Garcia placing second in the Division III girls race.
Both Wynn and Garcia return, but they won’t be surprising anyone this year. Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy teams and individuals for the cross country season:
Boys teams to watch
Desert Vista: Always in the mix, the Thunder haven’t been able to get over the hump for a title after winning three out of four years from 2005-08. This year, they have arguably the best 1-2-3 in Division I in seniors Carter Macey, Ryan Dykstra and Ryan Smith. Five of the seven runners from the state meet return, but with the kind of depth Desert Vista has, holding on to a spot among these top seven runners will be a difficult chore.
Highland: The defending champions lose its top finisher at state in David Graham, but return three of its top five, including senior Logan Woolf and junior Weston Jones. The Hawks need two or three newcomers to step up if they hope to pull off a repeat.
Corona del Sol: All seven runners who competed at the state meet are back, led by senior Jake Whitney and juniors Nate Rodriguez and Blake Fischer. The Aztecs will need to see improvement up and down the line in order to break into the hunt for a trophy.
Perry: The Pumas surprised a lot of people with their seventh place finish at state last year, setting a benchmark for the new program. They lose their top two runners, but return Gunner Albrecht and Jacob Siwek to go with a talented group of newcomers.
Saguaro: With Jake Wynn leading the way, the Sabercats have that top-tier talent that can lift an entire program. Wynn is not alone, as four of the seven runners off of last year’s 4th-place team in Division III return, including Wil Gilbreath and Fox Stone. The Sabercats’ only problem is the three teams that finished ahead of them last year, Chinle, Rio Rico and Tuba City, all return the bulk of their team. Of all of the divisions, Div. III is shaping up to be the most competitive.
Boys runners to watch
Carter Macey and Ryan Dykstra, Seniors, Desert Vista: Macey is runner 1A for the Thunder, with 1B being fellow senior Ryan Dykstra. If someone from the Valley is going to rise up and challenge Cibola superstar Bernie Montoya, Macey and Dykstra would be on the short list. Macey was 7th at state last year, with Dykstra at 13th. Dykstra is a bit behind coming into the season due to injuries, but both should be top-10 finishers at state, and it would not be a surprise to see both in top 5. Their work and leadership drive the Thunder, who will be gunning for a spot in the Nike Cross Nationals.
Logan Woolf, Sr., Highland: A big part of why Highland won its first state cross country title last year was Woolf, who emerged as a consistent performer and jumped up 51 places at the state meet, from 62nd as a sophomore to 11th as a junior. He’ll have the added pressure of being the No. 1 guy for the Hawks, but after such a strong season, he appears ready.
Tyler Day, So., Mesquite: Day burst onto the scene last year to become one of the top underclass (freshman and sophomore) performers in the state. He was 26th in the Division I championships as a freshman and with some improvement, could be a top-10 finisher this year.
Omar Ewert, Jr., Apache Junction: A pleasant surprise for the Prospectors last year, Ewert finished 22nd at the Division II meet and should jump up significantly this year.
Jake Wynn, Sr., Saguaro: No Arizona runner has beaten Cibola’s Bernie Montoya in a head-to-head race in a couple years, but Wynn does hold one thing over Montoya: he ran faster on the state championship course last year. Wynn, the defending Division III state champ, will get his first shot at Montoya in the season-opening meet.
Other boys to watch
Arcadia - John Reniewicki, Jr.
Corona del Sol - Jake Whitney, Sr., Nate Rodriguez, Jr., Lukas Ykema, Fr.
Coronado - Luke May, Sr.
Desert Vista - Xavier Esparza, Fr.
Gilbert Classical - Sawyer Kimball
Highland - Weston Jones, Jr.
Higley - Brennen Barfuss, Jr.
Perry - Gunner Albrecht, Jr., Jacob Siwek, Sr., Cade Burks, Fr.
Tempe Prep - Caleb Peckham, Sr.
Valley Christian - Matt Benninger, Sr.
Girls runners to watch
Xavier: Defending-Division I individual champion Sarah Fakler finally enters her senior year and leads a very deep, talented group. Xavier’s 22 points to win last year was the lowest winning total in Arizona big-school (5A or Division I) history. The Gators have some holes to fill, with their No. 2 and No. 3 runners graduating and their No. 6 moving away. However, sophomore Lauren Kinzle is the next star for the Gators and there is plenty of other runners waiting in the wings.
Desert Vista: If there is any slip-up on the Xavier side, the Thunder have the team that can rise up and knock off the Gators. The top five runners return, however seniors Jenna Maack (5th in Div. I last year) and Brittany Tretbar (11th) are coming off injuries that kept them from competing in track. Sophomore Dani Jones and senior Natalie Krafft give DV a solid top four runners (if everyone is healthy).
Mountain View: Five of the Toros’ top seven runners return, led by senior Billie Dytrt. The Toros have a strong pack of runners and if that pack speeds up this year, Mountain View will contend for a trophy finish at Division I.
Saguaro: The Sabercats were right in the thick of a competitive Division III meet last year and return their top two runners from that team in sophomores Jelani Huma and Megan Boyd, who each placed in the top 10. If they can get improvement from the bottom half of their varsity lineup, they could repeat their third-place finish or do even better.
Campo Verde: The Coyotes featured five freshmen in their top 7 runners and return everyone from a 10th-place team. Jessica Watts (22nd in Div. III) leads the returners.
Girls runners to watch
Lauren Kinzle, So., Xavier: Much has been already written about two-time defending state champ Sarah Fakler, so we’ll look to the next great Xavier runner, Kinzle. As a freshman she finished sixth in Division I and will likely jump up a few spots this year and be a favorite to keep that string of Xavier individual titles going as a junior in 2013.
Kristi Rush, Sr., Highland: After an 11th-place finish at the Division I cross country meet last year, Rush had a strong season on the track and appears ready to make a jump into the top 5 this year. Rush dropped nearly 50 seconds on the state course between her sophomore and junior years, and with any kind of improvement, she’ll be in the lead pack.
Jenna Maack, Sr., Desert Vista: Emerged as the leader of a very strong squad a year ago and ran to a 6th place finish in Div. I. She’ll begin this year a bit behind after being sidelined with injuries, but last year gave her the confidence that she can compete with the best. When she gets healthy, she’ll be a contender for a top-3 finish.
Diana Garcia, Sr., Tempe: Quietly put together one of the top seasons in the East Valley last year, finishing second in Division III and leading the Buffaloes to a fourth-place team finish. Garcia is now the favorite to win the Div. III individual title with the graduation of Chinle star Rolando Jumbo.
Courtney Goodrich, Jr., Basha: Goodrich came out of the gate strong last year and established herself as a fierce competitor. She enjoyed a very successful season, placing 16th in Div. I. She likes to get out fast in races and try to hold on. With another year of hard work under her belt, she’ll be able to close out races better this year.
Taryn Estavillo, So., Red Mountain: There were seven freshmen in the top 20 at the Division I championship race last year and Estavillo was right in the middle of that group. With another year of seasoning, Estavillo could likely run under 19:00 by the state meet, which would put her in contention for a top-10 finish.
Other girls to watch
Arcadia - Sofia Dewulf, Jr.
Campo Verde - Jessica Watts, Soph.
Chaparral - Reagan Babione, Soph., Ali Kallner, Soph.
Corona del Sol - Hallie Swenson, Sr.
Desert Vista - Brittany Tretbar, Sr., Danielle Jones, Soph.
Horizon Honors - Mikaela Martin, Jr.
Mesquite - Alice Jensen, Soph.
Saguaro - Jelani Huma, Soph., Megan Boyd, Jr.
Xavier - Samantha Mattice, Jr.; Shelby Brown, Jr.