Did I hear you say you live for great individual match-ups? Your ship has come in!
The individual match-ups at Nike Cross Regionals seem to get better every year.
Since the boys championship race precedes the girls race, we'll take a look at the boys race first.
Someone who needs no introduction among the boys is Cibola (AZ) senior Bernie Montoya. Montoya has won big races in both Arizona and California this season, including a 15:14 to win the Arizona state title two weeks ago. He's been at or near the top of the nation's ranked runners all season long, and deservedly so.
And, you'd figure with a resume like that, he'd be a shoo-in to win the Nike SW regional title. But he's not. Rankings won't count for much when the gun goes off on Saturday morning.
There are a few other state champions with nice credentials set to show up Saturday morning on the Toka Sticks course. From Utah, there would be Ben Saarel, owner of the second-best time ever on the Utah state meet course at Sugarhouse Park. From New Mexico, there would be Luis Martinez, who made the New Mexico state meet course record break a serious sweat last weekend. And, Colorado's 5A state champion, Ashi Geberkidane, was a late entry who will also take his place in the field.
So, arguably, we will see the top runners from Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico on the starting line. But the list of state champions doesn't end there. If we go to classification champions, we add Ponderosa's Eli Hemming (4A), Brush's Anthony (Thomas) Rios (3A), and Lyons' Paul Roberts (2A) of Colorado. Roberts, incidentally, is a freshman who, despite running by himself over half of the race, still posted the second-fastest time for all classifications at Colorado's state meet on October 27. From New Mexico, we add 4A champion Nick Hill of Los Alamos. From Arizona, we should be adding Division 3 champion Jake Wynn of Saguaro, plus Division 2 champion Andy Trouard of Salpointe Catholic.
Utah chips in with a couple more of their own--Kramer Morton, the 5A champion out of Alta and Jake Heslington, the 4A champion out of Timpanogos.
Suffice it to say the field is stacked deep with legitimate 15-something 5K cross country types. If this race runs anything like the last couple of years, expect a large pack at the front early and a battle of attrition as the race wears on. The last 500 or so meters is simply a matter of will to maintain pace as the finish line looms tantalizing close but never quite close enough.
Luis Martinez will attempt to defend his title from last year, but it will be no small task to get it done. Joining Martinez as returners from last year's top 10 are Brayden McLelland (American Fork, UT), Jordon Cross (Ogden, UT), and Montoya.
The current meet record for the Toka Sticks course stands at 15:05.60 by Billy Orman from 2010. There's definitely potential for that record to go down in flames on Saturday.
It should be just about equally as competitive among the girls.
Katie Gorczyca of Centennial High School brings that Silver State's top time from their state meet to the starting line. Malia Gonzales of Cleveland High School carries the same honor for New Mexico. Utah? Well, that would be Lucy Biles of Herriman. Xavier's Sarah Fakler (Arizona) and Pine Creek's Heather Bates (Colorado) complete the set of top times from all five state meets. There is plenty of place to run, but no place to hide in this field.
Last year's defending champion, Erin Hooker of Fort Collins, returns despite having a somewhat disappointing state meet. Last year's top 10 is also represented in this year's field by Elise Cranny, Summer Harper, Fakler, and Sarah Feeny.
Joining the field as classification state champions are Cranny (Niwot, Colorado) Eva-Lou Edwards (Bayfield, Colorado), Jenna Thurman (Del Norte, New Mexico), and Diana Garcia (Tempe, Arizona). If you count "almost as good as" state champions, include Katie Rainsberger (Air Academy, Colorado) on this list. Rainsberger lost to Cranny by the slimmest of margins in Colorado's 4A race.
As was the case with the boys, the field is flooded with entries who were oh-so-close to being state champions. There should be a serious pack of girls completing the Toka Sticks course in well under 18 minutes.
Arizona State Meet Pages