You'd expect a grand spectacle in the desert to tell you something. And it did.
When I use the word "us" in the title of this article, my primary reference is those of us who have some tie to Colorado high school cross country. A few people from outside of the state will read the article, but, if so, they will do that as people on the outside looking in.
So, what should we take away from the results of this meet?
1. The state of Colorado high school cross country looks pretty good right now.
The top New Mexico teams weren't at Desert Twilight (but have mostly already been beaten by some of the better Colorado teams). Utah was almost entirely absent from Desert Twilight, as was Nevada. So, we need to be careful about what we infer about the rest of the Southwest region. All that said, Colorado enjoyed a spectacular night under the lights at Desert Twilight. Niwot, Durango, and Silver Creek are all outstanding programs, but Colorado's presumed very best teams did not make the trip this year. Niwot's boys and girls, and Durango's girls, in particular, leave Arizona with excellent reason to believe things are trending upward at just the right time, but Mountain Vista, Broomfield, Rock Canyon, Dakota Ridge, Monarch, Palmer Ridge, Battle Mountain, and Centaurus weren't there. Despite that, Colorado held its own very nicely against the best teams in Arizona (and a few very good teams out of Texas--plus at least one out of Virigina--as well).
Among Southwest region teams, only an exceptional Desert Vista boys team finished ahead of any of Niwot, Silver Creek, Durango, Air Academy, and Discovery Canyon. Let that soak in for a while. On the girls side, Durango and Niwot came in ahead of Xavier College Prep and behind only Chandler. Valor Christian was only two points behind Xavier College Prep.
The results of this meet will very definitely rattle the Southwest region rankings when they next come out in another week.
2. Cole Sprout is the real deal.
Forget for a moment that Cole Sprout didn't win the boys sweepstakes race. 14:48 is still an unbelievable time on this course, under any conditions. For reference, Tanner Norman ran 14:59 last year on the same course at the same time of year.
3. Tatum Miller is back. Madeleine Burns just found a new level. James Lee's race just went to a new level as well.
Tatum Miller's September wasn't going exceptionally well for her until Friday night. It looks like things are back to spinning on the right axis for Miller.
And, I don't think I would have picked Madeleine Burns for a top six finish here. That she accomplished it speaks loudly about where her race is headed. A whole lot of things are going very well for the Durango girls right now.
Until now, James Lee's big successes have come at 800 and 1600 meters. 5000 meters is new territory for Lee to see this kind of success. It's a course well-suited to someone with Lee's kind of raw speed, and the Silver Creek senior made the most of the opportunity.
4. Niwot came loaded for bear.
Niwot's been getting better with every meet this fall, so the result here doesn't come as a total surprise. But, the fact that Niwot executed it--with both boys and girls--without so much as missing a beat on either side suggests the Cougars came down to Arizona with a laser focus. More than any other Colorado school, Niwot had the kind of meet that could prove to be the catalyst that will take them to the next level.
As as aside, or maybe not so much an aside, expect the 4A title races to be doozies on October 28. I still give Battle Mountain the edge on the girls side, but this doesn't like anything like the clear-cut path to another state title that it looked like a month ago. Besides Niwot and Durango, Palmer Ridge just had a very nice weekend that saw them upending 5A powers Rock Canyon and Grandview.
5. Desert Twilight puts exceptional pressure on runners.
A lot of factors go into this. Desert Twilight has done a very good job of promoting their meet. People go down there with expectations. Running under the lights is part of that picture. Running on what could be the fastest predominantly grass course in the nation is part of that picture. Other factors contribute to the picture as well. Bottom line, pretty much everyone from Colorado who goes down there goes down expecting to blast their existing 5K cross country PR to smithereens.
That's a good thing and a bad thing.
Honestly, most runners who go down there come back with what they went for--a shiny new PR. But, more than just a few catch hitch their wagon with to speedy group (often the lead group) and run out of gas before the race comes home. It's easy to get the idea all you have to do is show up, run faster than you ever have before for the first mile, and the rest will take care of itself. It doesn't always end up working that way. It goes that way at NXR-SW some, too.