3 in a row: Fakler wins Gatorade Runner of Year award

During her freshman year at Xavier Prep, Sarah Fakler ran in the shadow of her senior teammate, Jessica Tonn, one of the state’s best high school cross country runners ever.  Every event that the small Catholic school in central Phoenix entered that season found Tonn finishing in first place, while the rookie settled for runner-up.

But it was a great mentoring experience for Fakler, a good way for the youngster to ease her way onto the high school scene.  The intimidating glare of the spotlight fell on Tonn, who had a full prep career to get used to it.

Now, Fakler is the senior and has, by some measures, surpassed her old mentor.

One of those quantifiers of her success came last week when Fakler was named Arizona’s Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year.  It was her third Gatorade honor – which puts her one-up on Tonn, who won two.

Both were able to parlay their athletic skills into college scholarships.  Tonn went on to compete for Stanford; Fakler has committed to the University of Virginia.

The colleges they selected will reap the benefits of recruiting two of this state’s best-ever distance runners.  But Xavier Prep has already cashed in from its good fortune as the pair has helped the school to six consecutive state championships.

The Gators scored 55 points to beat out Mountain View High School, with 75 points, for this year’s team title.  Last year, the Gators set a state record in the competition with just 22 points.

During the 2012 season, the slight 5’5″ athlete won both the Sole Sports Running Zone Cross Country Festival and the Desert Twilight Festival, where she set a course record last year of 17:30.9.  Xavier has won the last four team titles at that event, hosted by Queen Creek High School but run in Mesa.

That 2011 Desert Twilight Festival marked the closest any competitor has come in the last couple of years to beating Fakler, when Rolonda Jumbo from Chinle High School, also one of the state’s premier runners for several years, came within 10 seconds of crossing the finish line first.

Distance running is a sport that takes an incredible number of hours of training to prepare for the grueling events.  But Fakler has managed to juggle the time commitments for running with those necessary in the classroom.  She has maintained a 4.0 GPA, which is factored into her consideration for the Gatorade awards.

The other requirement is community service, which she somehow squeezes into her schedule as well.  She is involved in her church and volunteers on behalf of local environmental sustainability initiatives.   One of her projects involves designing, building, and supplying solar ovens to a disadvantaged community in Ghana.

Her success – on and off the cross country trails – boils down to her work ethic, says her coach at Xavier.  “Sarah’s work ethic is off the charts, in everything she does,” Dave Van Sickle points out.

“In four years, I can’t remember her missing a practice.  She doesn’t get sick, she doesn’t get hurt, and she does everything in a really disciplined manner.”

Fakler will have one more opportunity to apply those skill sets before heading off to college in the fall.  When the track & field season gets underway, she will defend her individual state titles in the 1,600 meters and the 3,200 meters.

And, as might be expected, she is going for her third consecutive crowns in each event.

(Photo: az.milesplit.com/rceton)