Fakler, Montoya run to Desert Twilight cross country titles

If Rolanda Jumbo thought she was going to have a better chance of beating Sarah Fakler this year at the Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival, she was mistaken.

Fakler, the junior runner from Xavier Prep in Phoenix, beat Jumbo last year by just 10 seconds to win the Milesplit Sweepstakes race in the popular annual event hosted by Queen Creek High School.

That set up this year’s showdown.

But Jumbo found herself even farther behind Fakler when they hit the illuminated finish line Saturday night.  The senior from Chinle High School finished more than half a minute behind the Xavier phenom, as Fakler posted a winning time of 17:30.9 and Jumbo came in at 18:01.3.

Fakler beat her own winning time from last year, which was 17:47.  In that race, Jumbo, who has been among the state’s elite in high school cross country since winning the 3A state championship as a freshman, provided the excitement of the event by staying step-for-step with Fakler until the end.

The race is run over a partially-lit course at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa.  Since many of the races don’t get off until after dark, it provides a unique and fun experience for runners.  It also draws some of the best runners and top teams in Arizona, as well as some entrants from outside the state.

It’s obvious that Fakler is only getting better with age, as she continues to dominate the cross country scene with a senior year yet to go.  During her first year, she ran in the shadow of Jessica Tonn, her Xavier teammate who won just about every race the two entered in 2009.  When Tonn moved on to run at Stanford last year, Fakler moved to center stage.

And Xavier Prep also continues its team domination, winning Saturday’s Desert Twilight by placing six runners in the top 10 and distancing itself from second-place Mountain View High School from Mesa.  The Gators’ team score was 25, while Mountain View was down the road at 115.

Xavier also won last year’s team competition, when they placed five runners in the top 25 and scored 50 points.

The boys’ team competition this year went to a visitor from Alabama.  Mountain Brook High School finished in first with a score of 174, comfortably ahead of second-place Mountain View, which won the Twilight two years ago.

This was the first year of cross country without Billy Orman, who graduated from Tuba City High School in May.  Orman dominated the boys side of the sport last year, claiming the Twilight title among his other trophies.

So this year, Bernie Montoya stepped in to fill the void.  The Cibola High School junior ran a 15:02 to earn the boys’ individual title in the Sole Sports Sweepstakes.

Montoya didn’t start cross country until his sophomore year, concentrating on football as a freshman.  An accelerated training program over the summer that included 10 miles a day, really paid off Saturday as Montoya wiped out his previous best 3-mile time of 15:16.

Montoya was followed by Nick Hartle from Centennial High (15:10.8), Tyler Stamp (Sabino High/15:31.8), Ryan Silva (Rincon High/15:34.7), and Jake Wynn (Saguaro High/15:39.5).

The remainder of the girls’ Top 5 included: Tory Haberman in third (Highland High/18:03.1), while Xavier took the next two slots as Breanna Perrone finished in 18:03.5 and Laura Orlie in 18:08.6.