Leo Daschbach is gone now from the Highland High School cross country program. And the chances for the team’s state title repeat this year likely followed him out the door.
His departure also means that Desert Vista HS has a good chance to sweep the boys’ and girls’ D-I team titles.
Draschbach, who graduated in the spring and will be competing for the Washington Huskies, is generally regarded as one of the best distance runners in Arizona high school history. He was the key last season to the Highland boys putting an end to Desert Vista’s reign of five straight team championships, and six out of the last seven. It was just the second state title for Highland.
His time of 15:27 at the 2019 state meet, which was just 24 seconds off the course record, led the Hawks to a team total of 39 points. But he had help; four top-10 finishes by Highland runners helped the Hawks to a comfortable victory, finishing 26 team points ahead of second-place DV.
However, all four of those top finishers from last season have graduated. The top returning competitor from last year’s state meet was Jagger Zlotoff, who finished 17th.
Desert Vista, on the other hand, lost just two of its best runners (Demetris Love and Sammy Van Alstine), and has a strong core of juniors to lead the program back to the top.
And there’s good reason for Desert Vista fans to be optimistic about a sweep this year since last year’s girls’ squad won the D-I title. The girls’ program has been developing into a powerhouse in recent years. Since 2013, they have won three state team titles and also finished twice among the top three teams.
The addition of a couple of recent newcomers to the DV program has provided more fuel to the Thunder’s ascent as a force to be reckoned with in high school cross country. Lauren Ping, a freshman last year, won the individual title with a time of 17:36 over the 5K course at Cave Creek Golf Course, and her then-junior sister, Grace, was runner-up at 17:57.
Lauren Ping was last season’s Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Desert Vista’s girls have been on a steady climb the last couple of years, finishing state runner-up in 2018 and title-winners last season.
The Thunder graduated its top two runners, Jariel Sebastian and Caroline McCloskey, but look like they have the depth to give them a chance to repeat this season, boasting a lot of potential in their top seven performers. They return six runners, five of whom were in the top 21 at state.
Highland’s girls’ team, which finished runner-up at state last season, will be competing with four sophomores and a couple of seniors and will likely make another legitimate run at the team title.
But it’s the Desert Vista program that will have the biggest target on its back this season.