It’s mid-term exam time for Arizona cross country teams.
The Desert Twilight Cross Country Invitational is the largest cross country event in Arizona each year and serves as a mid-season gauge on how teams are stacking up with the rest of the state.
More than 230 teams from nine states converge on Arizona Grand Sports World in Casa Grande on Friday, Sept. 29, including all of the Mesa high schools. Races begin at 4 p.m. and the running doesn’t stop until just before 10 p.m.
The final chance to tune-up before Twilight occurred on Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Doug Conley Invitational in Tempe. Mountain View, Red Mountain, Dobson and Skyline all sent runners to the race.
Mountain View entered Conley with confidence, after winning the Fountain Hills Invite team title on Sept. 9.
In the Elite Varsity race at Conley, the Toro runners found themselves too far back in the pack early on and struggled to move up through the crowd. Even with those race difficulties, Mountain View made things interesting, putting five runners in the top 25 but ultimately falling just short of the title. Highland won with 100 points, followed by Page with 101 and Mountain View at 102.
“I thought they ran exceptionally well with the execution of the race plan,” Mountain View coach Ronny Buchanan said. “Obviously, it’s a learning experience every race. What we were looking for is to be able to manage yourself through the field and be able to be strong the last half of the race.”
Mountain View’s usual No. 1 runner Carson Klepinger had an off day and was 20th. Teammate Jared Pace was the top Toros finisher at 12th with a time of 15 minutes, 55 seconds over the 5K course at Shalimar Golf Club.
Klepinger, who was the individual winner in the first two meets of the year (Chandler Invitational and Fountain Hills), said he found himself too far off the lead pack and could never close the gap to put himself into a position to contend.
“If I could change it, I would have gone out a little bit quicker,” said Klepinger, who ran a 16:04. “I just played it too conservative. It was unfortunate, but it’s just one race. It doesn’t define me.”
After Klepinger, three other Toros were close together, with Deshawn Malone in 22nd, Braden Rasmussen in 23rd and Zachary Frisch in 25th.
“Our plan is to train through this race, train through Twilight, so we’re not going to cut back on how much work we’re doing.” Buchanan said. “Then as we get closer to the state championships, we’ll do some slight tapering.
“This is just a stepping stone for what state is going to be like. I think that’s why I like this race moreso than Twilight at times. At Twilight, you’re racing teams from California, teams from Texas, Colorado, New Mexico.”
Of all the Toros, Klepinger enters Twilight with the most motivation after running below his own expectations at Conley.
“I just want to redeem myself from this race,” the senior Klepinger said. “I just take every race like I’m going to go out and win it, so that’s the goal for me, to go out and get a ‘W’.”
In the Girls Elite Varsity race, Red Mountain, led by Niki Hemmerlin’s 6th place finish, placed third in the team competition. Xavier College Prep won with 68 points, and Highland was second with 79. Red Mountain had 160, Mountain View was fifth with 183 and Skyline, who did not run its normal varsity lineup, was 15th.
Hemmerlin and Mountain View’s Kailey Welch battled all throughout the race, with Welch coming out ahead in 5th place with a time of 18:25, just two seconds ahead of Hemmerlin. Red Mountain’s Jacquelin Santos and Brenna Bourgeois were 35th and 36th, respectively, Riley Boyer 43rd and Kate Brockman 52nd to round out the scoring runners.
Mountain View’s Elizabeth Christensen was 23rd, followed to the line by Abigail Welch in 42nd, Aryanna Tahiliani in 51st and Emmy Thomas in 73rd place.
In the Boys Invitational Race, Dobson claimed a runner-up trophy, scoring 131 points to finish 17 behind the winning team, Cactus Shadows.
The Mustangs’ Scott Sally and Claudio Garcia ran up front all race long an came away with a fourth-place finish for Sally in 16:13 and sixth for Garcia in 16:18. Adam Honawa was 30th in 17:04, Justin Legg 33rd in 17:10 and the final scorer was Stephen Dilley in 68th at 18:00.
The Red Mountain boys placed sixth with 196 points. They were led by the 37th-place finish from Masen Hofmann in 17:15.
Doug Conley Invitational
At Shalimar Golf Club, Tempe
Elite Boys race
- Jared Pace 15:55
- Carson Klepinger 16:04
- Deshawn Malone 16:14
- Braden Rasmussen 16:16
- Zachary Frisch 16:18
- Sean Stapley 16:36
- Adam Anderson 16:42
- Lawson Lundquist 17:14
- Kaden Knopp 17:41
Elite Girls race
- Kailey Welch 18:25
- Elizabeth Christensen 19:46
- Abigail Welch 20:17
- Aryanna Tahiliani 20:34
- Emmy Thomas 21:14
- Brooke Campbell
- Kiersten Rule 21:53
- Niki Hemmerlin 18:27
- Jacquelin Santos 20:02
- Brenna Bourgeois 20:07
- Riley Boyer 20:17
- Kate Brockman 20:35
- Emma Elsner 20:41
- Brooke Jacobs 21:09
- Taryn Bickle 20:49
- Silicea Price 20:56
- Kaylee Freudenthal 21:09
- Giselle Retana 21:23
- Sierra Carter 22:06
Boys Invitational Race
- Scott Sally 16:13
- Claudio Garcia 16:18
- Adam Honawa 17:04
- Justin Legg 17:10
- Stephen Dilley 18:00
- Ivan Duran 18:00
- Tanner Rackow 18:12
- Masen Hofmann 17:15
- Daniel Kniss 17:39
- Camden Hall 17:40
- Thomas Sewell 17:40
- Joseph Hamilton 17:59
- Dane McCall 18:01
Girls Invitational race
- Susana Sallad 22:03
- Dominique Brown 23:23
- Alexis Herrera 25:00
- Jaedyn Brown 25:32
- Monique Hernandez 26:03
- Ashley Langland 27:53
The Red Mountain boys golf team went out of state to play in the LISD Red Raider Classic in Texas at the Rawls Course at Texas Tech.
The Mountain Lions finished second in the two-day event in Lubbock, Texas as they shot a 29-over 605 to finish three strokes behind Lubbock Cooper.
Cameron Barzekoff finished tied for medalist honors at 3-under, including an opening round of 2-under, while Abraham Elmore made the all-tournament team at 8-over.
Britton Liming was at 9-over, Carson Ruedemann finished at 23-over and Luke Little was at 25-over.
The Mesa City Girls Golf Tournament held its first round last week and Red Mountain have a huge lead after 18 holes at Apache Wells Golf Course.
Kendall McBean shot 2-under to take the lead while Belle Balkan was even-par to sit in second place. Maghan Singh and Nicole Ewing were next at 1-over and 3-over, respectively, while Abigail Campbell finished at 13-over.
Mountain View was second at 42-over par, Westwood was third at 53-over par and Skyline was last at 87-over par. Mesa participated but didn’t have enough to field a team.
The Toros’ Leighton Shosted finished even-par to sit in a tie for second, while the Westwood duo of Erin McGuire and Emilia Yoon tied for sixth at 8-over par.
– Staff writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this story.