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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Here they come: Gators hit ground running

Xavier Prep’s cross-country team has some talented young runners to be sure, but there’s something to be said for the stability provided by the seniors.

Three senior athletes hoping to help the Gators hoist the Division I championship trophy on the first Saturday in November are Caroline Liddy, Caroline McClelland and Kate Straneva.

Xavier opens its season on Saturday (Sept. 9) in the Fountain Hills Invitational at Fountain Hills Park. Start time is 7:30 a.m.

With the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s relaxed practice rules, coach Dave Van Sickle and the girls were able to work more over the summer, including workouts at 5:15 a.m.

“We feel good about our team,’’ McClelland said. “I like the summer training, helps you get into a good pace of things. We are excited to start the season and see how we fit in with the rest of the state.’’

Said Van Sickle: “We are doing fantastic. We had a great summer. We are hungry and ready to go.’’

The coach likes to motivate his runners by telling them they are going to “fly under the radar,’’ meaning very few people expect them to challenge. But Xavier’s increased quality of runners across the board, age-wise, makes that a little more difficult to disguise.

To finally have a meet is a good thing, Van Sickle said, “so that everybody gets an idea of their spot, who’s doing what and what they need to work on.’’

All three seniors are involved in student council.

Liddy participates in an environmental club that promotes sustenance and limiting waste.

The Gators have cornered the market on Carolines. There are these two and a freshman, Caroline Calihan.

So if the name goes viral and should happen to wind up on running gear, who gets the copyright?

“Probably me,’’ McClelland said, laughing. “She (Liddy) goes by “Liddy’ and I am Caroline.’’

McClelland missed about a month of training while wearing a boot to help combat a case of plantar fasciitis. She thinks she will be back in full form soon.

Liddy said she hopes to get a boost from running a lot at a camp in Flagstaff.

Meanwhile, Straneva might be busiest of the three. She also writes for the X-Press newspaper and plays for the XCP tennis team in the spring.

“It’s a lot to do, but it’s super fun,’’ Straneva said. “I am involved in a lot of articles all over campus.’’

All of the runners must be disciplined to combine their sport with schoolwork.

“You have to stay focused, stick to your schedule. It’s definitely on you to make it work,’’ Straneva said.

Will life after Xavier include more running for these athletes?

McClelland hopes that things will work out to allow her to run at the collegiate level. Straneva probably will run at the club or intramural level. Liddy is not sure yet. Her decision will be based on whether she will be involved in military service. Some members of her family have served.

Xavier 2017 cross-country roster

Seniors – Abbie Conrad, Caroline Liddy, Caroline McClelland, Annika Nielson, Kate Straneva.

Juniors – Karli Baker, Karina Hawkins, Helen Innes, Arden Smith, Karina Smith, Katherine Thomas, Josie Venezia, Megan Woodbury.

Sophomores – Kayla Chavez, Kristen Keeble, Kaitlyn Lauck, Mia Olsen, Hannah Phillippi,  Gracie Valandra.

Freshmen – Sammy Braun, Caroline Calihan, Emma Chester, Elyse Gifford, Sophia Healy, Joey Hernandez Mena, Camille Merickel, Rishita Shah, Jamie Stelnik, Bethany Whitehouse.

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