The Arizona high school cross-country season is entering its fourth week of competition and teams are already making noise before the midway point.
There are some perennial top programs across all of the state’s four divisions and surprise teams that have vastly improved from last season.
One of the state’s biggest meets is the Desert Twilight Festival in San Tan Valley coming up Oct. 1-2. Several teams from Arizona and California will converge and see who has the stamina, speed and depth to finish first.
Here are Tea Republic’s 10 best boys cross-country teams so far through Week 3.
Boys Super 10
1. Gilbert Highland
The defending Division I state champion has loads of depth and pack running with strong results. The Hawks are led by several upperclassmen such as seniors Jagger Zlothoff, Elijah Poelman and Gavin Neilsen. Highland dominated the Open Schools Session I race, taking 14 of the top 20 places. It was the runner-up behind Brophy Prep in the inaugural Western Equinox Varsity Big Schools Session I race on Sept. 19. The team finished second overall behind Surprise Shadow Ridge and Brophy Prep at the Chandler Invitational’s Junior and Senior Sessions II, respectively, on Sept. 12.
2. Phoenix Brophy Prep
The Broncos are making big statements to start the new season. After finishing third at last year’s Division I boys state team championship, that race’s individual title runner-up and senior Xander Black is leading Brophy. He has a supporting cast of fellow seniors Jackson Moran, Charlie Fallon and Jesse Salinas. Brophy Prep won the Varsity Big Schools Session I race and placed fourth in the Open Big Schools Session I at Western Equinox.
3. Phoenix Desert Vista
Desert Vista is looking to add to its Division I dynasty in November after being second to Gilbert Highland for the title last season. The Thunder has been heard loud and clear through the first three weeks of this season with a balanced roster of fast under- and upperclassmen runners. They have racked up wins at the Chandler Invite, besting the competition at the Desert Daylight Invite’s Freshman and Senior races on Sept. 26, and coming in second at the Western Equinox’s Open Big Schools Session I race.
4. Red Mountain Mesa
This season’s Red Mountain roster is arguably the best in the program’s history. The Mountain Lions surged to win the Chandler Invite’s Freshman Session I by a landslide with Matthew Hamilton, Tyler Mathews and Dylan Hartson taking the top three spots on the podium. Red Mountain’s juniors Noah Czajkowski and Elijah Davis finished in the Junior Session I top 10. Red Mountain was third in Session I races for both the Open Big Schools and Varsity Big Schools races as well.
5. Surprise Shadow Ridge
The Stallions are one of the top West Valley small school cross-country programs and are making a big impression. Shadow Ridge’s team additions include freshmen Brayden Lavender, Andrew Nevarez and Kaleb Kjer, who powered them to second place in the Chandler Invite’s Freshman Session II race. The team won that event’s Junior Session II race, was second in the Senior Session II race as well, and took the top five and 10th place spots in the Western Equinox’s Open Big School Session II race. Plus, their top six runners have all recorded 5K lifetime-bests already this season.
6. Tucson Salpointe Catholic
This could be the year that Salpointe takes the Division III title. That’s not just because the six-time state champion Page has its season on hold because of the pandemic. The Lancers have a lot of speed and depth with 10 runners fighting for the top seven spots on their roster. On paper, Salpointe has less than a 20-second compression and proved that with its split as their top five finishes at the Chandler Invite was only 17 seconds and was 34 seconds at Western Equinox. Salpointe is stacked, with Diego Veliz and Michael Urbanski who are sophomores, juniors John Harris, Diego Logan-Behshad and Ethan Mobley, and seniors Diego Valdez and Ryan Ramsden.
7. Mesa Mountain View
The Toros have a balanced roster that can run with any powerhouse in the state. They crushed the Open Big School Sessions III race by placing in half of the Top 20 at Western Equinox. Mountain View also came in third at the Chandler Invite’s Junior Session I, and had a big victory at the Western Equinox’s Varsity Big School Session III race.
Juniors Javier Garcia, Terrence Keyes and Jefferson Sees are the top runners for one of the state’s most improved teams, which finished 13th in the 2019 Division II state championship. Gilbert had a stellar outing by winning the Chandler Invite’s Junior Session I as Garcia and Keyes took the top two spots. Gilbert also finished in fourth behind Brophy, Highland and Red Mountain in Western Equinox’s Varsity Big School Session I.
9. Phoenix Veritas Prep
This is the leader among Division IV teams that routinely competes with and beats schools with four times its enrollment. There was no match for the Falcons, which cruised to an easy win in the Western Equinox Varsity Small School Session I, with Division IV defending champion North Phoenix Prep a distant second. The team’s top runners are some of the state’s top juniors including Jon Barney, Timmy Soukup, and Jake Hirsch, who helped Veritas Prep end in sixth place at the Chandler Invite Junior Session I competition.
10. Gilbert Perry
Many experienced returnees for the Pumas. They finished fourth and fifth in the Junior and Senior Session II races at the Chandler Invite, respectively. Perry was second at Shadow Ridge in Western Equinox’s Varsity Big Schools Session II and seniors Austin Hutchings and James Kinney were second and sixth at Desert Twilight’s Senior run.
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