It's a rare occurrence when high school coaches can generally agree on something, but that was the case when the 5A conference decided to go to qualifying standards for this year's 5A-I and 5A-II state cross country meets.
Most coaches I spoke to, in fact, felt the move was a step in the right direction, but more could be done to make the state meet more prestigious.
"We had to do something," Desert Vista coach Chris Hanson said. "There are coaches who would disagree with that, but at some point it's got to be an honor to get to the state meet."
In 2005, the 5A conference was divided into 5A-I and 5A-II. With regions that included a mix of 5A-I and 5A-II schools, it was decided that instead of qualifying through regionals, all teams would automatically go to the state meet.
The 5A state meets became crowded, dusty and drawn-out affairs, with the winners coming in sometimes 15 minutes before the final runners crossed the line.
"We made our meets a cast of hundreds of runners," Chandler athletic director and cross country coach Dave Shapiro said. "We were getting 200-220 runners at the starting line, and you get about a 600-yard straight before it narrows down. It becomes more of a safety concern."
In order to qualify for the state meet this year, teams must have at least five runners meet the qualifying standards, which were based on the average time for the 125th-place finisher at the state meet the previous four years. The state even set up standards for courses that were slightly shorter or longer than the standard 5,000 meters. Runners can meet the standard at any AIA-sanctioned invitational during the year.
The other idea considered by the conference was going to the super regional format that is currently used in golf (two regionals of 16 teams each). That idea didn't get enough support this year, but some coaches feel that could be the next move.
"I was a fan of the super regional format," Red Mountain boys coach Scott Thomas said. "That would give us 16 to 18 teams (at state) instead of 32. The race now is crowded and difficult for spectators. I'll be interested to see how it affects things this year."
Old is new again at Conley
It began in 1973 at Rolling Hills Golf Club in Tempe, and after a couple of decades away at Tempe's Kiwanis Park, the Doug Conley Invitational is returning to its original home.
"The city of Tempe is going to do some remodeling at Kiwanis Park, and they informed us that it would not be available," said Eric Smith, director of the cross country meet. "We're trying to build a relationship with Rolling Hills, which has been very generous. It's kind of neat to go full circle."
The meet, scheduled for Oct. 10, may remain at Rolling Hills in the immediate future due to the changes at Kiwanis, Smith said. Smith said the spectators will have a better view of the runners than they did at the Kiwanis course. And with the hilly terrain on the course, the runners will be in for a challenge similar to what they face at the state meet at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix.