HS cross country says goodbye to two of its biggest stars

Sarah Fakler spent her first year of high school running in the shadow of her teammate, Jessica Tonn.  Literally running in her shadow, since her lot in life was to finish as runner-up to the senior that dominated the sport for four years.

During that first season at Xavier Prep in Phoenix, Tonn and Fakler were the Gators’ one-two punch in just about every race that season.  Tonn moved on to run for Stanford, but before she left the high school ranks she was named the Arizona Republic Girls Runner of the Year following undefeated seasons in her last two years.

Fakler is moving on to the University of Virginia after taking the baton from Tonn in 2009.  She just added her third consecutive individual state title as she helped Xavier to its sixth straight team championship.

The Gators accumulated 55 points to hold off runner-up Mountain View High School with 75 points.  Last year, Xavier set an Arizona high school record with just 22 points.

Fakler’s winning time of 18:02 wasn’t even her best effort, but she finished in her usual place well ahead of the pack; her closest rival in the race, Highland High‘s Kristi Rush, crossed the line in 18:50.  Fakler set the course record at the Desert Twilight Festival, arguably the most competitive race of the season, last year with a time of 17:30.9 and then won it again this season in 17:34.28.

The closest any competitor has come to Fakler in the last two years was the 2011 Desert Twilight when Rolonda Jumbo from Chinle High School came within 10 seconds of beating her to the finish line.  Jumbo, too, reached legendary status, winning four straight state titles in the small-school division.

And Fakler has to be considered the favorite this season to pick up her third straight Gatorade Arizona Cross Country Runner of the Year honor.  That would one-up her former teammate, Tonn, who picked up two Gatorade awards.

There was also a three-time winner at state on the boys’ side, as Bernie Montoya from Cibola High School in Yuma clocked a winning time of 15:14 to close out his cross country career.

Montoya, too, has been a dominant force in prep cross country.  Like Chinle’s Jumbo, he may have also picked up a title each year, but didn’t begin running cross country until his sophomore year.  He has been consistently winning ever since – his time this year is two seconds better than his winning time at state last year.

As this season got underway, he was given the No. 1 ranking among prep runners nationally.  But he had to push to get his state title this year, as Ryan Silva from Rincon High in Tucson finished just 36 seconds behind him.

Despite a couple of key injuries, Desert Vista High School in Phoenix won the boys’ team title this year with 101 points, comfortably ahead of runner-up Highland (135), the defending title holder.

Both Montoya and Fakler will graduate at the end of the year, but Fakler looks at that as just part of the transition of talent that goes on at Xavier.  She told a reporter that her coach always reminds the girls that seniors graduate, but tradition at the small Catholic school never does.

Last year, all seven of the Xavier runners finished the state meet somewhere in the top 14.  This year, all seven Gators finished in the top 23, with Jane Miller leading the pack at No. 14.

But that’s probably not something the rest of the Division I schools want to think about right now as they put 2012 behind them and look ahead to next season.

And begin looking for the stars of the next generation.

(Photo: az.milesplit.com/ rceton)