Of course it's another year of hold-your-breath racing shaping up at NXR-SW! And a few girls who stand out from this photo in last year's race are very much in the hunt again this year.
Saturday is the big day for the Southwest region. But, you already knew that. The hard part is trying to figure out beforehand how the results will turn out.
Of course, there is no way to be sure of what the outcomes will be. I remind my teams of that fact periodically, and that sports would instantly lose their appeal if there was no element of uncertainty about the outcome.
There's always a reason to lace up the spikes and see what will happen on a given day. There's always a reason to show up and watch, to see what really happens when everything is on the line.
2016 - A Bit of History
Last year, Mountain Vista pulled off a mild upset and won the Southwest region. Mountain Vista beat the same Broomfield team that had had their number during the Colorado state-sanctioned season, and they beat local favorite Desert Vista. DV, of course, was the team that wound up in second.
Broomfield got to sit on pins and needles for a week, but eventually the at-large bid was extended in their direction.
Broomfield took great advantage of the at-large bid, finishing seventh at Nike Cross Nationals. Desert Vista ended up leading the Southwest delegation with a sixth-place finish, while Mountain Vista rounded things out in 13th.
Both Mountain Vista and Broomfield largely brought their NXN teams from 2017 back intact, particularly so far as scoring members go. Desert Vista had a lot more filling of holes to get done.
And, it has been Mountain Vista that has been the region's dominant team--at least insofar as we can discern that for a team that hasn't left the borders of their home state. At the very least, Mountain Vista has dominated Colorado, including three decisive wins over Broomfield. Mountain Vista is undefeated and unthreatened in Colorado this fall.
As an aside, Mountain Vista was down one of their typical scoring five at State. It looks like she is still out. No vulnerability showed up for Mountain Vista at State, but it's worth noting here that they don't expect to be quite 100% at NXR-SW, either.
Apart from the Mountain Vista factor, Broomfield, too, has looked very good this fall. It's just that Broomfield hasn't yet come close to solving the Mountain Vista puzzle in 2017. Not even when Mountain Vista was down one at State.
And, another team has emerged on the Colorado scene. That team is Battle Mountain. It isn't so much that Battle Mountain is new to being a very good team as it is they are a better team than last year. In fact, it's not far afield to suggest there's a whole lot of parity this year between Battle Mountain and Broomfield.
By reputation, Battle Mountain is more of a strength team and Broomfield more of a speed team, a fact which could give Broomfield an edge in Casa Grande, but it's still probably a thin reed of an edge. Battle Mountain just might go in the hungrier team.
Regional rankings have these three Colorado teams pegged as the region's top three. They probably belong there, but there's not a lot of reason for any of the three to start getting complacent.
The most obvious threat comes out of Utah, but it's hard to say from exactly where in Utah. Utah girls have enjoyed something of a cement mixer kind of ride this fall. It's been very difficult to pin down exactly which team is the top team.
Going into the state meet, now almost a month ago, a lot of folks were thinking Mountain View. But, Pleasant Grove and Pine View had other ideas about the state meet. And, American Fork isn't quite far enough out of the picture to be discounted, either.
It is fair to say there has been no one dominant team in Utah this fall. Gone are the days when Davis and American Fork ruled everything. The top teams in Utah are probably down just a touch from the standards of previous years.
Still, if you're Pleasant Grove or Pine View, you have to believe momentum is in your corner and you head down to Arizona to make a race of it and see what happens.
Albuquerque Academy comes in as the top team out of New Mexico, followed closely by Cleveland. The pattern for New Mexico of late, though, has been to occasionally get a top-ten finish out of NXR-SW. Both AA and Cleveland should be aiming for that this fall, but it will be a mighty reach if either team attains a top-five finish.
Centennial is coming out of Nevada, but their prospects should be similar to those of the top New Mexico schools.
Arizona got off to a solid start, and particularly so Chandler. But, Chandler got a little beat up down the road and has opted out of NXR-SW.
In fact, it was Division 2 Flagstaff that came out on top in the Arizona State Meet Power Merge. Flag is a solid team, and potentially even a top ten team, but, guess what, they are foregoing NXR-SW as well.
Desert Vista is down considerably from last year and probably wouldn't figure as a factor. Wolf is running, but not the team.
That leaves Xavier College Preparatory as the top Arizona team. They will have their hands more than full with this field.
Palmer Ridge, runner-up to Battle Mountain in Colorado's 4A, needs a huge performance to close the kind of gap Battle Mountain put on them at State. A top six or eight finish would be monumental for Palmer Ridge (I'll let the reader decide if there's an intended pun there or not). Rock Canyon, third in Colorado 5A, faces similar prospects.
Once again, it looks to be coming down to Colorado and Utah teams here.
There will be no Grace Ping to confound this year's outcome.
Mountain Vista likely has two who could figure as potential at-large qualifiers in Jenna Fitzsimmons and Caroline Eck. But, if things go as anticipated for Mountain Vista, it's a non-issue.
Colorado's best hopes for at large qualifiers would seem to rest of the shoulders of 2016 qualifier Quinn McConnell and Stephanie Carrasco of Thornton. Certainly, with a great race, there are other more remote possibilities, but these should be the top two on your list from Colorado.
Broomfield and Battle Mountain both have a couple of possibilities for at-large qualifiers if the teams don't qualify. Battle Mountain's Elizabeth Constien did chalk up the fastest time of the Colorado state meet, though that was a solid step up from her season leading up to the state meet.
Arizona certainly has some NXN capables in Haley Wolf, a member of last year's NXN team at Desert Vista, Samantha Schadler, Abi Archer, and Maya Smith. Schadler, of course, is the younger sister of Allie Schadler, and Abi Archer was the big phenom of the Arizona state meet. Archer was solid during the season, but spectacular at State, easily running the fastest time of the day. If Archer can reprise that kind of effort of Saturday, she is a solid candidate to be seen in Portland in two more weeks. Smith is Arizona's small-school champion, and one who boasts a 17:37 PR from Desert Twilight.
Amanda Mayoral posted the top time in New Mexico. And, Mayoral is an NXN veteran of two years ago. Still, she needs a huge effort on Saturday if she is to secure a return visit to Glendoveer Golf Course. It would be an enormous reach for anyone else out of New Mexico to make the cut, but Jacque Pinon is a dark horse candidate.
Nevada doesn't appear to have any likely individual threats.
That takes us to Utah.
At the top of the Utah watch list is Sadie Sargent. The North Summit senior has lined up an impressive string of first-place finishes last fall. She was 17th at last year's NXR-SW, but appears to be very much on a trajectory to reach Portland this fall. It will be a surprise if she's not among the individual qualifiers, given her season to date.
Weber's McKenna Lee was next in the Utah merge, but Weber does not show among the NXR-SW entries. So, I infer we won't see Lee in Casa Grande. That leaves Karli Branch of Corner Canyon and Alissa Fielding of Mountain View as the only other girls under 18 minutes at the Utah state meet (3 miles). Corner Canyon is in the same boat as Weber as far as entries go, leaving Fielding is the most likely other individual qualifier out of Utah.
Like Colorado, Utah has some others who figure as dark horses, but all would need huge efforts. Note also that Utah has a strong tradition of heading to Foot Locker West and several athletes appear to be opting for that race over NXR-SW (though it is certainly possible, if taxing, to do both).
Right now, it looks like Arizona has the most solid prospects in the the race for individual qualifiers.