Desert Vista girls x-country begins 2015 nationally-ranked

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                </div>  Two years ago, the sister tandem of Dani and Baylee Jones led the Desert Vista High School girls’ cross country team to a huge upset of Xavier Prep, wresting the […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Two years ago, the sister tandem of Dani and Baylee Jones led the Desert Vista High School girls’ cross country team to a huge upset of Xavier Prep, wresting the Arizona state title from the Gators, who had enjoyed a six-year reign as the top team in Division I.

And they helped the Thunder retain the crown again last year.  But Dani has graduated now and Baylee will be taking on the leadership role as a junior and the team’s top performer as Desert Vista begins its quest for a third straight girls’ cross country title.

She’s a big part of the reason Desert Vista is expected to retain that title.  But this year’s squad also has the depth that will be needed to reach that goal since five of last year’s top runners have returned, including a couple of top-10 finishers at state.  Haley Wolf capped an impressive freshman season with a sixth-place finish, while junior Amanda Davis came in eighth.

Junior Madi Bucci and senior Mason Swenson round out the experience that gives the Thunder the depth needed to accumulate enough points to be able to repeat by holding off a strong Xavier squad that is looking intently for the crown it lost back in the 2011-12 school year.

That’s also why the Desert Vista girls entered the 2015 season as the No. 4-ranked team in the nation.

Baylee Jones is planning on doing her part, saying she wants to re-establish the stature she had as a freshman after a slight fall-off last year.  She finished second at state in her first year running for Desert Vista, giving the Thunder a dominating 1-2 punch, as Dani took the title – and then captured it again as a senior.

But little sister fell off a little last year.  Her runner-up time in 2013 was 18:10, but that dropped to 18:50 last year and Baylee had to settle for a third place finish.

She says she wants to follow in her big sister’s footsteps.  That means she has to be thinking about a state title this year, and next year as well.

And don’t forget about all the other honors and records that big sister accumulated in her last two years before heading to the University of Colorado.

Not only did Dani win the state title in her junior year, but she was also named the Arizona Republic girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Her senior year, she repeated as state champion and was considered one of the top five or 10 prep runners in the nation.

At the prestigious Chandler Rotary Invitational, which featured some of the nation’s top runners from a field of 131 schools, she set a new state record in winning the 1,600 meters, clocking a sizzling 44.46 – which was also the fastest time in the nation at the time.

Dani set a high bar for her little sister.  It will be interesting to see if she can get over it.

Baylee won’t have her over-achieving sister around to provide support this year.  But she does have a coach who knows what it takes to nurture and develop top runners.  Jeff Messer took over at Desert Vista the same year that Baylee moved up to high school following an outstanding couple of years competing at the middle-school level, so he coached Dani through the all-important junior and senior years and will have Baylee for all four years of what should be an equally impressive prep career.

And before the Jones sisters, he also guided a couple of the state’s premier runners through their careers.  Before Desert Vista, Messer was at Xavier Prep, which dominated distance running for more than a decade and produced two of the best cross country runners this state has even seen, first Jessica Tonn and then Sarah Fakler, who assumed the mantle of greatness from Tonn.

History continues to repeat itself, as Messer passes the torch from Dani Jones to her sister, Baylee.

And, in the process, Desert Vista may be starting its own reign.