When Jeff Messer and Dave Van Sickle were sharing the head-coaching duties for the Xavier Prep cross country team, they felt it would be interesting to see what would happen if they were at opposing schools. Together, they won six consecutive Division I state titles at the all-girls Catholic school in central Phoenix.
Two years ago they did go their separate ways when Messer was hired to take over the Desert Vista High School cross country program, a very long drive down Highway 10 to the south.
Now Van Sickle may be thinking it wasn’t such a neat idea to break up the act.
Messer snatched the girls’ title away from Van Sickle and the Gators last year and found room in the Desert Vista trophy case for a trophy that had eluded the Thunder for years. And now he needs to begin making room for more hardware.
This year, Desert Vista won both the girls’ and the boys’ Division I championships — and did it in dominating fashion.
Dani Jones set a new state course record by covering the Cave Creek Golf Course in a sizzling time of 17:26 on a very warm day in the desert that left some runners dehydrated and cramped up. She led the way to a team total score of 30 points as the Thunder literally ran away from the rest of the field. The closest school was… you guessed it, Xavier. The Gators finished with a score of 83, followed in third place by Highland High with 140.
In an interesting sidebar to this story, Messer also coached the runner who held the record before Jones took it away. Jessica Tonn was competing for Xavier when Messer coached there. Her course time of 17:28.16 has stood for five years, and almost made it even longer since Jones is finishing up her final year at Desert Vista.
Jones didn’t sneak up on anybody; her star has been steadily rising since her freshman year. Last year she won the individual state title in Division I and was named the Arizona Republic girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. This year she is considered the top runner in the state and among the top five or 10 in the nation – and the girls’ team is also among the best in the country.
They will find out just where they stand on a larger stage when the Nike Southwest Regional meet rolls around on No. 22, and then hopefully at the national meet a couple of weeks later.
The Desert Vista girls made it all the way to the Nike Cross Nationals last year, only one of two Arizona schools to earn a trip to the nationals. Guess who the other school is… (starts with an ‘X’).
On the boys’ side, the Desert Vista squad was just as overwhelming in its victory, posting a final score of 46 that was well out of the reach of runner-up Mountain View High School (Mesa), which finished with 96 points. Corona del Sol High School came in third at 126.
The Corona boys rolled through last season undefeated, winning a state title for the first time in 21 years, but this season were without graduated superstars Nathan Rodriguez and Ryan Normand. Those two joined with Marcus Wheeler to sweep the top three places at last year’s state meet – and Wheeler stepped to the top of the winner’s stand this year by winning the individual state title.
This will be the last year the other schools in Division I have to contend with Jones, but she isn’t done leaving her mark yet. There’s still the track & field season in the spring, and Jones holds the state records in both the mile and 1,600-meter events.
She may have a couple more state titles to claim before graduation.
(*And for those of you keeping track, the Keams Canyon Hopi High boys’ team in Division IV claimed its 25th consecutive state team title, which makes it the longest winning streak in the country. Joe Adriano from Pinon High won the individual title and Maya Smith from Northland Prep is the girls’ individual state champion.)
(Photo: Margot Kelly /az.milesplit.com)