The cross country scene in Arizona has always had its elite competitors who could compete nationally.
It was no different a year ago when Desert Vista's Dani Jones and Rio Rico's Carlos Villareal dominated before they left for Colorado and Arizona, respectively. They were about as good as Arizona had seen in a long time.
But now they are gone. So where does that leave the state of cross country in Arizona?
In good hands (and lungs).
"I would contend that Arizona continues to evolve an increasing breadth of both highly accomplished individual distance runners and similarly competitive teams," Desert Vista girls coach Jeff Messer said. "I do not perceive a significant drop-off from the most elite male and female distance runners relative to other high school distance runners in our state.
"I perceive a broadening of overall distance running depth and a broadening that extends across the various interscholastic divisions."
The overall depth in the state looks to be on display this fall, as many of the teams that had top five finishes a year ago bring back a majority of last year's top seven.It might lead to several repeat team champions among the eight divisions but it won't make for an anti-climatic season by any means.
MaxPreps 2015 Arizona cross country previewBoys
: Desert Vista (Phoenix)Contender: Mountain View (Mesa)Darkhorse: Highland (Gilbert)Comment:
The Thunder return three runners who finished in the top 15 a year ago and two more that were in the top four as Desert Vista goes for its third title in four years. It would be the second time since 2005 the Thunder had such a run of titles. Division II
: Gila Ridge (Yuma)Contender: Greenway (Phoenix)Darkhorse: FlagstaffComment:
Greenway has finished second two straight years. It has to be rather motivating. If the Demons can get a fourth to join the top three, including senior Richard Delara, they could get over the hump.Division III
Favorite: PageContender: ChinleDarkhorse: Rio RicoComment
: Page looks to be in line for its 13th state title and second in a row behind Caley Sandoval and Isaac Manson. Division IV
: Hopi (Keams Canyon)Contender: PinonDarkhorse: Pusch Ridge Christian Academy (Tucson)Comment:
Hopi had three underclassmen, including runner-up Diome Talaswaima, finish in the top 10 and is the heavy favorite to win its 26th-straight state championship. Girls
Division IFavorite: Desert Vista (Phoenix)Contender: Xavier College Prep (Phoenix)Darkhorse: Mountain View (Mesa)Comment:
The Thunder return five runners, including runner-up Baylee Jones, from last year's squad that won with 30 points last year, a margin of 53 points.Division II
Favorite: FlagstaffContender: PrescottDarkhorse: Catalina Foothills (Tucson)Comment:
Flagstaff had three freshmen, now sophomores, finish in the top 35 last year. And senior Courtney Lewis, who finished fourth a year ago, is back to lead the way. Division III
Favorite: PageContender: Window Rock (Fort Defiance)Darkhorse
This is expected to be the most hotly contested division on championship day, as both Page and Window Rock, which finished first and second, respectively, a year ago, return six of their top seven from a year ago.Division IV
Favorite: Northland Prep Academy (Flagstaff)Contender
: American Leadership Academy (Queen Creek)Darkhorse: Hopi (Keams Canyon)Comment:
Medalist Maya Smith is back for Northland Prep along with three others from the top 15.Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Prep Sports Director for 1013 Communications, is a 20-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at email@example.com.