Southwest Region Boys 2017: Will The American Fork String Be Broken?

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Brace yourself for another rousing edition of NXR-SW Boys, but with lots of new faces this time around!

At 10:47 on Saturday morning, it all comes down to 5000 meters of mayhem, or at least such mayhem as the flattest, fastest course in the entire region can generate. Mostly, it comes down to raw speed, and who has the best supply of it, five deep.

There's a great deal of suspense building up to this one. The region lacks a clear and compelling favorite, but there are at least five teams very much in the hunt to advance to Portland.

Teams

2016 - A Bit of History

Last year was ruled by American Fork. And nobody was particularly surprised by that. American Fork went on to finish second at Nike Cross Nationals.

Honestly, there was a lot more interest surrounding the question of what other team or teams would qualify out of the Southwest region, meaning no slight to American Fork, of course.

Those other teams ended up as Davis and Springville. Davis got the auto bid, Springville had to wait for the other regions to finish up their races and hope for an at-large bid. The waiting around paid off big for Springville.

It was a solid year for the Southwest region at NXN. In addition to AF's second-place effort, there was a fourth for Davis and a 15th for Springville. 

That's the kind of result most regions only dream of.

2017

In the intervening year, Davis has more or less fallen out of the picture. Not so Springville and American Fork.

Springville came back hungry for more. The Red Devils won the Utah state meet, the state meet merge, and a few other meet titles along the way. 

American Fork's 2017 story is more one of a long, arduous rebuilding process. But, here it is, the end of the season and guess who is right back in the thick of things? American Fork won the Utah 6A crown, finished second in the Utah state meet merge, and you can bet Timo Mostert's guitar that the Cavemen have only proceeded to get better in the four weeks since the Utah state meet. That's just how things work at AFHS.

Before leaving Utah, we'll note that Timpanogos, too, is a team of serious consequence. Jody Benson's crew finished second to Springville in Utah 5A and third in the Utah state meet merge. 

It will be a shocker of a fairly high order if any other Utah teams leapfrog any of the three aforementioned programs at NXR-SW, but Herriman has the best of the outside shots of doing that.

It's no given this year, though, that Utah will be able to repeat their sweep of the top three positions (much less the top five!) at NXR-SW. There's more balance around the region this year than last.

There are no threats out of Nevada, and probably none out of New Mexico, but Cleveland's dazzling run at the New Mexico state meet at least gets them a mention here. If the Storm can take things up yet another notch from a stunning state meet performance, it is not out of the question that they generate some heartburn for the presumed top teams. They waited a while to show it, but when it went out on the course, it was impressive.

The more proximate threats to years of near-total domination out of Utah come from Arizona and Colorado.

In Arizona, the locals haven't gotten to see much of the show, but Desert Vista did leave a mark on California at the Woodbridge Classic. If you missed Desert Twilight and the state meet in Arizona, you didn't get to see the best Desert Vista has to offer, but why would you call yourself a fan of cross country in Arizona and miss those two meets?

Anyhow, Desert Vista is for real. And they go very solid at least five deep. There was a 5-6 gap at State that could come into play at NXR-SW, but the DV seven ran as a very tight group at Desert Twilight. So, we're left to speculate a little. Were there just off races for a couple guys at State? Were there injuries in play at State? If so, have they resolved or will they still be a factor for DV at NXR-SW? For the record, DV's 6 and 7 at State were their 4 and 6 at Desert Twilight and included their #3 at Woodbridge, so there is something at stake here.

If you want to know the answers to those questions, show up on Saturday morning.

The threat from Colorado is the familiar threat of Mountain Vista, the team that won the 2015 NXR-SW team title in a very close battle that resulted in four SW teams advancing to NXN. And, there are a couple of carryover names on this year's team from that 2015 squad.

Mountain Vista has dominated the Colorado scene all season long. Nobody on this team threatens to qualify as an individual, but they run as a relatively tight pack and they don't take long to get the scoring machine started (or finished!).

Depth is not an issue with Mountain Vista. There are no serious gaps in the front seven (or even a little beyond that, honestly). 

There are other good teams in Colorado--teams like Rock Canyon and Palmer Ridge, but--like Cleveland out of New Mexico--they'll need a monster effort on Saturday to get within sniffing range of the top four team places where meeting practices for another week becomes a reality.

So, we seem to be at five likely candidates--Springville, American Fork, Timpanogos, Desert Vista, and Mountain Vista. What do the keys for each of those five teams come down to?

For Springville--arguably the favorite in this group, if there is one--the key will be to keep things as tight as they possibly can. Springville has been devastating at 1-4 all season long. And their 5 has been good enough to keep the other Utah teams at bay. But, when you throw in two more teams that run a solid pack like Desert Vista and Mountain Vista have been doing all season long, then any spacing between 4 and 5 becomes more problematic. 

Springville has an even bigger 5-6 gap, meaning if any of the top five isn't on top of his race on Saturday morning, this team could drop out of contention entirely. Springville absolutely, positively needs all of their top five firing on all cylinders. Nothing else is going to get it done in this crowd.

For American Fork, the key appears to come down to how much progress this team has made since October 18. They made tremendous progress between August 18 and October 18, but that mostly got them into the hunt. If they aim to win the hunt, they need another solid month's worth of progression. If they got that, then don't be the least surprised if their team name is the last one called on Saturday.

Timpanogos needs a better effort here than the one they turned up at State, and the one they turned up here last year. Surely, the memory of not making it last year after being a favorite to do so lingers in the minds of the A-Wolves. It's time to turn a memory into a motivation if they aim to make it this year.

For Desert and Mountain Vista, it should be a matter of keeping the pace brisk and the packs tight. It's not at all inconceivable that these two teams bump the Utah schools out of both of the top two positions. And that has never before happened at NXR-SW.

Hold your breath. This one is going to be good.

Individuals

So much of the individual qualifying picture will be colored by the team qualifying picture that this one is very difficult to sort out.

Specifically, Grant Gardner, Brandon Garnica, and Caleb Garnica are all individual candidates to qualify if the Springville team doesn't make it. Timpanogos and American Fork have a couple of outside shots each to qualify as individuals if the team doesn't make it, but none of those four rank among the top individual threats.

Significant threats outside of the top teams begin with the top two finishers at Desert Twilight--New Mexico's Kashon Harrison and Colorado's Cole Sprout. It will be exceptional if either of these fail to make the cut.

There are others to consider as well. Charlie Perry and Chris Theodore of Colorado both come into the race with rock-solid credentials and sky-high dreams. 

Aidan Troutner and Ryan Raff represent Utah on the same kind of credentials. Justin Hartshorn is likely just a step back from these two, but still one to consider.

Jericho Cleveland out of Volcano Vista in New Mexico is yet another to consider for an individual qualifier.

Arizona's top candidates, or at least those with the hot feet of late, would be Rylan Stubbs and Leo Daschbach.

If you shove me into a grimy corner and rough me up a little bit, I'd probably tell you that my five picks to make it are Sprout, Harrison, Troutner, Perry, and Theodore. But, that assumes Springville makes it as a team. If they don't make it as a team, Gardner becomes one of your most likelies, but I don't care to guess in place of whom.


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