The cross country season gets a shakeup on Friday when many of the state’s top teams head to the Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa for the sixth annual Desert Twilight.
The featured races are held after sundown and lights line the course. Out-of-state teams will participate and many of the best runners from Arizona will be there. Not only has this become arguably the top in-season meet of the year, but the atmosphere is festive.
“My kids like the whole night thing,” Highland girls and boys cross country coach Dave Montgomery said. “It’s kind of like a big party. It’s a fun thing, and being a top team it can get intense, so I’m always looking for ways for them to enjoy it.”
Last week at the Ojo Rojo Invitational, the Corona del Sol boys captured the victory with Highland right on their tails. Both will compete at the Desert Twilight, as will other expected contenders Mountain View and Desert Vista.
The boys team title race lacks a clear favorite, but if the top teams choose to race their best runners, this could give an indication of the pecking order.
The course is relatively flat and the out-of-state competition will push the Arizona entrants, so the times should be fast. Top out-of-state girls teams include Great Oak, Calif. and Los Alamos, N.M. The Los Alamos boys team is also solid, as are the Rio Rancho, N.M. boys.
“Other than state, this is the meet of the year,” Desert Vista boys coach Chris Hanson said. “It outranks some of the better meets in the state because of the out-of-state competitors.”
Xavier is the clear favorite on the girls side, led by two-time Tribune Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Sarah Fakler. Mountain View won at Ojo Rojo and has the best average girls time early on, followed by Highland, Desert Vista and Corona del Sol, and all will be participating in this event.
There is still some time before sectionals and the state meet, and coaches have separate game plans in ramping up the intensity. However, the elite convergence of both in-state and out-of-state teams has made the Desert Twilight the top regular season meet of the year.
“The competition is awesome,” Montgomery said. “The Sweepstakes races will be flying. The more competition there is, the better you’ll get.”