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.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Xavier runners getting an early jump

The roosters have not yet awakened. Workers across Phoenix have not warmed up their singing voices for some Carpool Karaoke as they drive to work.
It is downright early.
How early is it? Suffice it to say that when Brophy Prep’s football team begins practice at 6 a.m., the Xavier Prep cross-country team has been sweating for nearly an hour, running laps and stretching on the track that rings the field.
The Gators are a dedicated group.
There are nearly two dozen runners who participate every Monday through Thursday and on Saturday.
Asked about his runners’ dedication, long-time Xavier coach Dave Van Sickle said, “For summer, for sure. It’s still somewhat cool now, but in two or three weeks, it will start to get humid and that will not be so good. But we will push through.’’
Once the daily workouts have been completed, many of Van Sickle’s runners will attend summer school.
The Gators are a dedicated group.
Xavier has had several state-championship teams since 1977. The Gators have nine title trophies, the most recent in 2012, and have been runners-up on seven occasions.
According to Van Sickle, the Gators have the makings “of a very strong team. We have a good blend of veterans and youth.’’
He will rely on five seniors to lead the way – Caroline McClelland, Caroline Liddy, Kate Straneva, Abbie Conrad and Annika Nielson.
The girls arrive at 5:15 a.m. for their daily routine. They jog a lap to begin, than do a bit of stretching. They then take off for a run around campus and the surrounding area.
Even assistant coaches Eden Higgins and Vito Perrone are on hand and run with the groups.
They usually run a different route every day.
“With the route, you try to get as much variety as possible,’’ Van Sickle said.
The runners’ dedication goes beyond the course. They are reminded of proper hydration and nutrition, and because of the early hour, “they are sacrificing some of their night-time socializing,’’ Van Sickle said.
The athletes bring large water bottles, which are lined up along the chain-link fence that borders the track. The bottles come in many colors, as do shoes and shoe laces.
At the close of the main portion of the workout, the runners remove their shoes and jog barefoot through a nearby grass practice field.
“It makes it a little harder to balance without shoes when they run,’’ Van Sickle said. “This has to do primarily with the feet and it helps with injury prevention.’’
The Gators are trying to get the early jump on opponents (emphasis on early) and it will be interesting to see how the season plays out in the fall.

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