DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gators run, run and run some more

Xavier’s Gators are on the run again. And that’s not really good news for the other cross-country teams in Arizona’s Division I.
XCP won six straight state championships from 2007-12 and was runner-up the last two seasons.
Long-time coach Dave Van Sickle and his runners have been practicing since Aug. 11 and are excited about what this season could bring.
“We started to get ready for the cross-country season about two weeks after the state track meet (in Van Sickle’s running club) and we’ve been keeping it going ever since,’’ said Van Sickle, also the school’s head track and field coach.
That meant a very early wake-up call to allow the runners to get their work in starting around 5 a.m. before the desert heat kicked in.
Since that heat continues well into September and sometimes into October, dual meets between schools are close to extinction, with teams preferring to compete in bigger meets, most of which begin at mid-morning.
The Gators have five such meets this fall, including the season-opening run in the Peaks Invitational on Sept. 5 at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff. The event has a 9 a.m. start.
“First one out, it will be a fitness test for us with that altitude,’’ Van Sickle said of the 7,000-foot elevation.
The team’s workouts most of the summer concentrated on distance, and Van Sickle said the focus has begun to shift a bit to speed work heading into the initial meet.
The top four runners, in no particular order, are seniors Jane Miller, Tessa Weiss, Shannan Higgins and junior Sarah Carter.
Van Sickle calls Miller “an endurance animal’’ who can outlast just about anybody.
Weiss gained experience with middle-distance work during the track season and has strength as a sprinter. Higgins also improved through middle distances in track. The coach said they are “getting better and better.’’
The gem of the group could be Carter, who had a breakthrough season in track and is poised for a similar effort throughout the season.

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