Fakler paces Xavier Prep to 4th straight Desert Twilight win

Maybe they should consider changing the name of the Desert Twilight Cross Country Invitational to the Xavier Prep Twilight Invite.  The Gators just wrapped up their fourth straight team title at the event hosted each year by Queen Creek High School at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa.

Or maybe it should be the Sarah Fakler Twilight Invite.  The Xavier senior just won her third straight Twilight individual sweepstakes race title.  The only time she didn’t collect the top trophy was back in 2009 when she was a freshman and running in the shadow of Xavier teammate, Jessica Tonn.  She finished behind Tonn that year as runner-up.

That year the pair swept the top two places in just about every distance event they entered.  Tonn graduated at the end of the season and moved on to run at Stanford, so Fakler has been queen of the hill ever since.

Xavier’s team dominance at the Desert Twilight, which was begun just six years ago and is considered by most in the sport to be the premier event of the season, is especially impressive since the field always includes out-of-state teams – which has added to its prestige and differentiates it from most other local events.

Of course, the really unique aspect to this event is the idea of running under the lights for the final races – which gives it a ‘festival’ type of atmosphere.

And most of the best runners in this state show up to get a good test before the state meets roll around.  The course is relatively flat, so it also provides an opportunity to put up some good finishing times.

In the boys’ competition, there has never been a repeat team champion.  That’s how tough it is to win this event.

And it hasn’t been local teams winning it lately.  This year, the Los Alamos team from New Mexico won the sweepstakes team title with 98 points and a team from Great Oak High School in California finished second with 154 points.  Last year, Mountain Brook High School from Alabama took the team title.

The best finish for an Arizona boys team this year was the third place that Desert Vista High School (Phoenix) brought home by scoring 209 points.

But Xavier, the No. 2-ranked prep team in the country, dominated the girls’ competition again this year, as all seven of their runners finished in the top 15 and the Gators took first place with 28 points to beat out Great Oak High, the nation’s No. 14 squad.  Great Oak, a California school, had five runners finish in the top 13 to compile 41 points.

Fakler took the individual title in the girls sweepstakes race in a time of 17:34.28, which was jut off the pace of her blistering finish of 17:30.9 last year that set a course record.  As a sophomore, she clocked a 17:47 to beat Rolonda Jumbo from Chinle High School to set up a rivalry that carried into 2011 when Fakler beat Jumbo by just under a half-minute.

Jumbo, one of Arizona’s elite distance runners who won four straight small-school cross country state championships, graduated last year and now Fakler is mostly being chased by her own teammates this year.

Shelby Brown brought in a third place finish for Xavier (18:15.18), behind the runner-up Ashley Helbig of Great Oak, who crossed the illuminated finish line in 18:07.31.  Monica Huston from Cibola High in Yuma took fourth (18:18.23) before Brown‘s younger sister, Sierra, crossed in 18:21.51 to round out the top five.

On the boys’ side, this was also a repeat win for Bernie Montoya from Cibola High in the individual sweepstakes race.  Two years ago, Montoya stepped into the void left by the graduation of Billy Orman from Tuba City High School  Orman left for Harvard last year but, before he left, he broke state records in both the 3,200 meters and 1,600 meters during his senior track season – records that had stood for more than a quarter century.

He is currently the No. 1-ranked prep runner in the country.

Montoya actually ran a shade off his winning time last year in the Desert Twilight, clocking a time of 15:12.  His 2011 time was 15:02.

But that’s not bad for a kid that didn’t start running cross country until his sophomore year in high school, preferring instead to focus on football as a freshman.  He didn’t waste any time once he got started, though, winning state titles the past two years – and the clear favorite to make it three in a row this year.

Andy Trouard from Salpointe Catholic in Tucson provided the best competition for Montoya in this year’s Desert Twilight, coming in second with a time of 15:24.41.

A couple of other local runners helped round out the top five, as Nate Rodriguez from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe took third in 15:25.10 and Highland High‘s Logan Woolf added a fifth place in 15:44.41.