As this year’s high school cross country season closed out at the Nike Cross Southwest Regional this past week, a decade-long period of individuals dominating the sport at various levels appears to also be drawing to a close.
Rolonda Jumbo claimed her fourth straight cross country state title earlier this month, ending a domination that began as a junior high runner and extended to four years at Chinle High School, a small school on the Navajo Indian Reservation near the New Mexico border. Chinle, which competed in the old 3A, is in the new Division III this year.
Jumbo dominated the state competition the way she has dominated every event, finishing almost 200 yards ahead of the pack with a time of 18:27 – and that’s not even her best time of the season. Her performance also helped Chinle post a total of 74 points to edge out Page High School for the team title.
She followed that up with a third-place finish at the regional, the highest among Arizona runners. Erin Hooker from Fort Collins High School in Colorado won the event in 17:36.13, while Jumbo was just off the pace at 17:43.99.
Her wins this year have included the Holbrook Invitational, Doug Conley Invitational, Four Corners Invitational, Chinle Canyon de Chelly Invitational, and the Peaks XC Invitational.
Now, Jumbo will move on to the next level after wrapping up one more track season in the spring. And her name will be added to a short list of runners who have left their mark on high school distance running in Arizona.
Kari Hardt, who ran for 4A Queen Creek High School, might be considered the first ‘big name’ among this talented group of high school distance runners. Before graduating in 2006 and moving on to compete for Arizona State, Hardt won two cross-country titles and six individual track & field championships.
Then Jessica Tonn picked up the baton and dominated the 5A girls’ field before graduating from Xavier Prep in 2010. Tonn, who moved on to Stanford University, ran undefeated for her last two prep years and was named The Arizona Republic’s Girls Runner of the Year.
On the boys’ side, there was Brian Shrader from Sinagua High School in Flagstaff, who won three consecutive 4A-II cross country titles and 10 state track & field titles. Shrader was snapped up after graduation last year by the University of Oregon.
But the graduation of Jumbo after the track season does not mean the list will end there. There are likely to be a couple more names added.
Sarah Fakler from Xavier Prep in Phoenix is unquestionably the best of the best in the girls distance running. She ran in the shadow of teammate, Tonn, during her freshman year in 2008, giving the Gators a powerful one-two punch in every meet. But she established her dominance with the start of her sophomore year.
Fakler just picked up her second straight state title, winning the first in 5A-I competition and now moving into Division I. Her time of 17:48.19 was her usual safe distance from the runner-up. This time it was Tory Haberman, a senior from Highland High in Gilbert, who finished in 18:14.99.
Undefeated in competition within the state this year, Fakler won the Sole Sport Invitational and the Desert Twilight meet, and finished 7th overall in the prestigious Mt. Sac Invitational in California.
At least one other runner who should be adding his name to that list of memorable competitors from this period is Bernie Montoya from Cibola High School in Yuma. He just won his second straight state title by claiming the Division I individual championship and then topped all Arizona runners in the Southwest Regional with a tenth-place finish.
Earlier this season Montoya won the Desert Twilight Festival, Central Park Invitational, and Sole Sports Running Zone XC Festival.
Like Fakler, he has one more year to solidify his legacy.
It’s uncertain where the next boys’ repeat champion will come from, but on the girls’ side, it’s a good bet that she is probably running for Xavier Prep right now.
Xavier placed seven runners among the top 14 finishers at the state cross country championship, leading the Gators to the lowest team score, 22 points, ever recorded at the event.
And two of those seven runners, Lauren Kinzle and Jessica Molloy, are freshmen… probably hoping to step into Fakler’s shoes when she hangs them up next year.
That seems to be the natural progression of things.