Desert Twilight XC Invite…running quietly into the night

Time to get fresh batteries for the flashlights.  It’s time again for the annual Queen Creek Twilight Cross Country Invitational, a rare opportunity for the state’s best distance runners to slip quietly into the desert night.

This is the fourth year for the popular mid-season meet, which will be held tomorrow at the Toka Sticks golf course in Gilbert.  The field continues to grow each year, with 72 high school teams registered for the 2010 running.

And, for the second year in a row, the ASU Invitational will be run in conjunction with the event, as part of a Cross Country Festival that includes 17 races – 14 high school events, two collegiate, and one community race that is open to all participants.

The ASU Invitational will feature eight collegiate teams, including University of Arizona, Northern Arizona, and Grand Canyon University.  Last year, ASU swept the men’s and women’s team titles; the Devil men finished with 16 points, the second-best total in program history.

Runners will navigate a looped course lined with lights.  Last year, runners start taking off around 4:30 pm and, by the time the varsity and sweepstakes races got underway, they were running under the lights.

The top 20 boys’ and girls’ teams are placed in the Nike Sweepstakes races, while the other teams compete in the Varsity sections.

Mountain View High School took the boys’ team title in last year’s event, while Xavier Prep won on the girls’ side.  Xavier literally ran away with last year’s title, scoring 54 points that put them well ahead of second-place Highland HS with 103.

Those teams return again this year, but the top individual spots will see a changing of the guard because Jessica Tonn (Xavier Prep) and Brian Shrader (Sinagua HS), the girls’ and boys’ sweepstakes winners, have moved on to college.

But Tonn’s teammate at Xavier, Sarah Fakler, is just a junior and is the favorite to carry on from where Tonn left off.  The pair were 1-2 finishers in just about every distance event last year.

Fakler won the George Young Invitational, which was run a couple of weeks ago and is also one of the more prestigious and competitive events on the season.  She covered the course in 17:47, helping Xavier to the girls’ team title.

The Gators are going to be a dominant force again this year, based on the results of the George Young.  Xavier won the team title with an extremely impressive 27 points total, far outdistancing second-place Mountain View from Mesa, which scored 76 points.  All five Xavier runners finished in the top eight places.

On the boys’ side, Will Firth from Brophy Prep in Phoenix, stepped into the winner’s circle early in the season to begin a challenge to replace Shrader at the head of the pack.  Firth finished the George Young course in a time of 15:39 to help Brophy to a third-place team finish behind Mountain View.

But it was Alhambra HS in Phoenix (pictured) that took this year’s title in the George Young, led by senior, Jorge Martinez, who clocked in at 15:50.

Based on the results of the George Young Invite, Alhambra would have to be considered one of the favorites for this year’s Desert Twilight, along with Brophy Prep and Mountain View.  On the girls’ side, little will change, as Xavier should continue its winning ways , with Mountain View and Highland HS from Gilbert at the top of the list of those contending for the runner-up spot.