Taking Stock Of Arizona's Boys Opening Weekend

North Phoenix Prep's Samuel Johnston crosses the finish line in tandem with Javier Garcia. But, it was Johnston's time that set the standard for Division 4.

One week of Arizona high school cross country, 2021, is now officially in the books. The first weekend of the cross country season doesn't tell us everything we want to know, but it does tell us something. In this article, we'll go after that something, Specifically, we'll go after that something with respect to boys. Girls will get their turn later in the week (and it's not the case that boys' articles will come first all season long--I aim to spread some of that joy around).

Chandler Invitational

This was the biggest-deal meet of the weekend, so we'll spend the bulk of our time here. There's plenty to extract from this meet. 

The first complication with the Chandler Invitational is that it's run by class (seniors, juniors, etc.). No doubt, there's a method to the madness of the meet directors, but everyone wants to know what the results would have been like if we'd run by the normal conventions of cross country. You know, put your best seven on the course and see what happens. Fortunately, the MileSplit database makes it rather easy for subscribers to come up with exactly that kind of analysis. Here's the link to what scoring-your-best-seven looks like for the Chandler Invitational (better still, I've broken it down by division for you):

Division 1 Scoring of Chandler Invitational

Division 2 Scoring of Chandler Invitational

Division 3 Scoring of Chandler Invitational

Division 4 Scoring of Chandler Invitational

If you're not a subscriber, don't worry, I'm going to talk about this a little. But, if you are a subscriber, you'll be able to see a level of detail I could never manage to incorporate into this article.

In Division 4, we see a fairly close battle between North Phoenix Prep and Chandler Preparatory at the top. The other schools have a lot of catching up to do. 

In Division 3, Shadow Mountain opens with an enormous gap on the field--at least the portion of the Division 3 field that showed up in Chandler. None of that crowd is in the same zip code as Shadow Mountain right now. 

Moving to Division 2, in what could be a preview of much to come this season, Campo Verde opens with an ever-so-slight advantage of preseason favorite Gilbert. Nothing is even close to being decided yet, but this one promises some drama along the way. Marana and Catalina Foothills are not so far back as to be out of consideration. Of all the classification races at Chandler, Division 2 was the best.

Things played out very much according to expected form in Division 1, unless you're a Desert Vista fan and wish to take issue with the fact that Highland came away with a small edge over Desert Vista. It is very early in the season, but you could plausibly argue that wasn't expected. It was also not, however, nearly beyond the pale of consideration. Mesa Mountain View was close enough to get a mention. Red Mountain was perhaps unexpectedly far back, but that could have a lot to do with the fact that the expected order of finish for Hamilton didn't exactly materialize.

Most teams, regardless of division, seemed to be running something close to regular varsity rosters, but it's axiomatic that we'll find individuals coming out of the woodwork later in the season who didn't factor into the results of this meet. So, we take things out of this weekend with a substantial grain of salt. 

But, at the very least, we did get nice first-of-the-season looks at several of the top contending teams. 

Individually, it was a day for seniors. There were seven runners under 16 minutes, all seniors. Terrence Keyes of Gilbert led that group, followed by Brady Eagar, Noah Jodon, Elijah Davis, Nate Pestka, Samuel Johnston, and Javier Garcia. When you start the season at under 16 minutes, you earn a little extra mention. Among that group, we'll make special note of Samuel Johnston. Johnston runs Division 4 and marked himself as an early favorite for the Division 4 title with that effort. As you'll also learn when you read farther down in this article, it was Johnston's second race in three days. 

The Peaks Invitational

Up north, The Peaks Invitational was arguably the big-deal meet of the weekend. The (Full) part was not part of the meet name, but was added by meet management to (apparently successfully) discourage further entries.

We'll ignore, for now, the Open and Novice divisions, as a quick scan of those divisions shows no particularly telling outcomes. No doubt, a few individuals there earned varsity slots for next weekend, but nothing more earth-shattering than that. It's mostly the Ascent and Summit divisions you want to pay attention to here. And, if you host a meet in Flagstaff, you are allowed to have trendy division names. 

Flagstaff's boys go home, though not very far, with a narrow triumph over Salpointe Catholic--who made a very long trip to compete in this meet. The times didn't come close to matching the times from Chandler, but we should be able to process that with no elevated levels of mental discomfort. It's cross country, and courses differ.

Both Flagstaff and Salpointe appear to have been running at least mostly full varsity rosters. Those doing the scoring were mostly the ones last year's results would have indicated should have been doing the scoring. If you're disconcerted about Faith Lutheran and one very prominent freshman result from same, recall that Faith Lutheran is a Nevada school. 

In any case, we can check the box that both Flagstaff and Salpointe Catholic lived up to preseason expectations at their first meet of the season. These two schools belong to different divisions, so we won't see a repeat of this matchup at state, but it's interesting to have an idea of how the two teams line up against each other even so.

We'll be cautious with the individual results as faster courses might shuffle the order of finish a little, but it was an indisputably nice performance put up by Cesar Diaz of Mingus Union. When you run well over 20 seconds ahead of the rest of the field, you're doing at least a couple things right. Diaz, we will note, is a junior.

Battle at the Border

A couple of ecological zones away, Nogales hosted their Battle at the Border.

Myles Floyd of Pusch Ridge Christian took a dominating individual win and that was just enough to push PRC over the top in team scoring. Nogales was left one point in arrears and Sabino two. Sunnyside was five back. It's rare to find multiple team scores this close in cross country, particularly so in a small meet.

With the schools present being ones of the smallish variety, we saw the expected gaps in pack times. A win for PRC is nice for now, but we'll wait and see how the team performance holds up in larger meets.

Duel in the Desert

Frankly, a lot of Arizona cross country races are duels in the desert. But, this one had Cactus Shadows, Horizon, DVHS, and North Valley Christian dueling. Technically, duels are generally considered limited to two persons or two entities, but perhaps rules read differently in the desert?

If you're confused about the DVHS, as I was at first, you will quickly learn that Desert Vista is not the only DVHS in Arizona. Deer Valley stakes a claim to those initials as well.

Cactus Shadows got enough out of their top four to hold on for a narrow win over Horizon, but the 4-5 gap for CSHS is going to be a problem until they can trim things down. What you can get away with in a quad meet is not the same as what you can get away with when a meet has 20 teams. We wish CSHS all the best in that venture.

Meanwhile, we'll tip the hat to the CSHS top three--Jason Lundgren, Caleb Villegas, and Ian Walford--who were each comfortably under 17 minutes in a race where only 13 slipped in under 20. 

Northwest Christian Invite

This meet narrowly missed being included in the meet review written for meets that took place earlier last week. I hit save on the article, went back to the front page of Arizona MileSplit, and there were results for the Northwest Christian Invite that weren't there when I started the article! Too late for last week's article, but not for this week's. Forgiveness and second chances are things here.

Northwest Christian is a Division 4 school, and the meet featured a cast of entirely Division 4 schools. After North Phoenix Prep surged out to a lead through the first three runners, Northwest Christian closed the gap at 4 and 5. That left us with a tie through five places, and the depth of Northwest Christian continued through the tiebreaker. So, Northwest Christian ends up with a tiny margin of victory at their home meet. 

If North Phoenix Prep is aiming at a state title later this year--and they should be at least setting that as a team goal--they're going to have some ongoing work at the 3-4 and 3-5 gaps to accomplish to make that a doable proposition. For now, the front three of Johnston, Thomas Koska, and Jonah Pearson is solid, but the loss to Northwest Christian here should keep reminding the Gladiators to work on closing up the pack time.

Given that North Phoenix Prep and Chandler Prep were running close at the Chandler Invitational, we can infer that Northwest Christian belongs in that same crowd as well.