The Desert Vista High School girls will be trying to bring home a fourth consecutive team championship in the sweepstakes race tonight at the annual Desert Twilight Cross Country Invite in Casa Grande. But the focus of attention for Arizona fans will likely be on Allie Schadler.
A senior at Rio Rico High School, a small school in the Santa Cruz Valley, Schadler has won three straight small-school cross country championships but has yet to win the Desert Twilight sweepstakes. She’s finished in the top five each of the last three years, including a second-place performance last year, but is still looking for that first title win.
This could be her year to finally pull it off.
The Desert Twilight is in its ninth year and was one of the nation’s first cross country meets to be held at night. There are 182 schools from all around the country that will be competing in tonight’s event. The slate of 20 races actually begins around 4 p.m., but the ‘marquee’ races – boys and girls championships and boys and girls sweepstakes races – begin after dark, beginning at 8:25 p.m. with the girls championship.
Many of the local teams used the Doug Conley Invite last week to begin preparing for the Desert Twilight, where the competition will be steeper and have greater significance since the Desert Twilight gives the teams a chance to qualify for the Nike Cross National.
The Conley is the granddaddy of local races, started 44 years ago in memory of Doug Conley, a 1966 graduate of Tempe High School and later that school’s cross country coach who fielded a nationally-ranked team in 1973 that won the state title that year.
Gilbert’s Highland High School replaced Chandler High as the new girls’ champion in the elite division, scoring 82 points by placing five runners among the top 28 finishers. Sydney Rhodes and Alena Ellsworth were the team’s top placers, finishing seventh and eighth respectively.
Chandler managed a sixth-place finish, but was without its top seven runners who had a conflict with their dual commitment to the swim program. That left the defending D-I state champion with just four runners to compete at the Conley.
Brophy Prep took the boys’ elite title with a 102 score, led by Hociel Landa’s third-place finish.
Individual titles in the elite division went to Michael Barney, a senior from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, who finished in 14:50, and Chandler’s Morgan Foster on the girls’ side. The sophomore, who finished the 2015 state meet in sixth place as a freshman, covered the Shalimar Country Club course in Tempe in 17:37.
But back to the Desert Twilight…
Katie Rainsberger from the Air Academy in Colorado set a new course record of 16:23 for the Desert Twilight last year to win the girls’ sweepstakes event. Schadler was second in 16:54.1, a personal best at the time.
But Schadler has already run a 16:26.3 earlier this season at the Sept. 17 Skechers Woodbridge XC Classic in California. That’s just three seconds off the record set by Rainsberger, who was the No. 2 runner in the nation at the time.
Rainsberger graduated last year, so Schadler should have a clear path to replacing her at the top. But not far behind in the pack last year was Desert Vista’s Baylee Jones, who finished in 17:41 for fifth place. Jones will also be looking for that title to help close out her senior season.
On the boys’ side, Saguaro’s Tyler Beauchamp gave Arizona another runner-up finish last year with a personal-record time of 15:01.7, but graduation has also taken him out of the mix this year.