The tide seems to be turning in the recruiting wars for high school cross country talent. Arizona colleges are beginning to enjoy some success attracting those local athletes who are among the elite of the sport.
Back in 2006, Arizona State won the services of Kari Hardt, who had won two cross country titles and six individual track & field state championships at Queen Creek High School. But she was the last of the ‘big names’ in the state to opt to remain at home for their college careers.
Four years later, Jessica Tonn graduated from Xavier Prep in Phoenix after dominating the 5A division during her prep career. She ran undefeated during her junior and senior years and was named the Arizona Republic Girls Runner of the Year. She left for Stanford.
A couple of years after that, Brian Shrader was lured to the University of Oregon after winning three consecutive 4A-II cross country state titles and 10 championships in track & field.
One of the premier distance runners in the nation, he pocketed four titles in four different events in the spring of his senior year at Sinagua High School in Flagstaff, winning the 800 meters, 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters, and as a member of the 4×800 relay team. He was selected three times as the Gatorade Arizona Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
And Sarah Fakler, who stepped in to take over when Tonn moved on to college, will graduate from Xavier Prep in May – and move on to the University of Virginia. She won three straight Gatorade ROY awards, three consecutive state titles, and ran undefeated her last two cross country seasons at the small Catholic girls’ school.
But suddenly, things are trending Arizona’s way.
After two years running for the Ducks, qualifying for the NCAA National Championships as a freshman and appearing in the NCAA West Region Championships last year, Shrader transferred to Northern Arizona University over the summer.
And, already on the NAU roster was a freshman from Chinle High School just starting her college career. Another coup for the local colleges.
Rolonda Jumbo isn’t just any recruit. This one dominated high school cross country in Arizona at the small-school level. She won four state titles, the last helping her small school on the Navajo Indian Reservation wrap up the state team championship.
Now Bernie Montoya has added the exclamation point to the statement Arizona colleges are making.
Montoya, who holds the Arizona record in the 3,200-meter event (8:48.25) and has won three state cross country titles, signed a national letter of intent to attend Arizona State. He is finishing up a storied prep career at Cibola High School in Yuma and will join the Sun Devil program for the 2013-14 school year.
His decision to stay at home for his college career makes him arguably the most highly-regarded recruit in ASU history. He is considered by many to be the top-ranked distance recruit in the nation and ASU’s head coach, Louie Quintana, says he feels the youngster has the potential to be a national champion at the Division I level.
“”His commitment to ASU is a tremendous boost to our young and very talented distance squad,” said Quintana after the NLI signing day earlier this month. “We have created a strong bond during this recruitment process and I feel that ASU is the best fit for Bernie to begin to actualize his goals of becoming a national champion on the collegiate level, and to subsequently begin to prepare for life as a professional runner down the road.”
Last season, Montoya showed a glimpse of the promise he holds on the national level. He won the prestigious adidas Dream Mile in New York, a premier inviation-only event that featured 14 of the best men’s and women’s distance runners in the country. His winning time of 4:01.32 is the fastest U.S. time in junior class prep history, and ninth-fastest ever among all U.S. high school runners.
His goals for his senior season include breaking the 4-minute mile – which would make him one of just five high school runners to accomplish the feat.
ASU added five distance runners among its recruiting class of eight, which will give the program some depth next season. Included among those additions is Cody Brazael from Buchanan High School in California, the No. 7 returning miler in the high school ranks this year.
That will give the Sun Devils two of the top seven prep milers in the country, adding distance depth next year to a men’s team that enters this indoor season as the No. 13 team in the country and defending Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champions.
Good for ASU. Good for local high school athletes.
(Photo: azmilesplit.com/Margot Kelly)