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, October 26, 2017

XCP runners win sectional with 7 in top 23

Xavier Prep’s cross-country runners finished with another big win on Thursday (Oct. 26) in the Division I, Section II sectional race at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix, with the biggest race of all just nine days away.

Gators coach Dave Van Sickle held out his top six runners in order to allow them to prepare for the state championship race on Nov. 4 at the Cave Creek Golf Course.

But Xavier still had enough depth to produce the win with 52 points in the 13-team event. The Gators’ seven runners finished in the top 23.

Glendale Mountain Ridge was second with 89 points, followed by Mesa Mountain View with 112.

“We did what we needed to do,’’ Van Sickle said. “We (coaches) know the girls’ fitness, and that continues to show. All the girls finished pretty high today. To have one of them finish farther down the list would have been a surprise, and today, no surprises was a good thing.’’

Van Sickle has one of the top teams he’s had at Xavier in quite some time.

“I’ve heard some people say that we have one of the deepest teams in the U.S.,’’ he said.

Whether that translates to a state championship remains to be seen.

With the six runners held out, that left one spot open for the state meet and Van Sickle used the sectional to determine who that will be.

The top finisher for the Gators on the warm Thursday morning was junior Karina Hawkins, who was third overall on the 5,000-meter course with a time of 19:18.2. Mountain Ridge’s Taylor Mellenhour was the winner, followed by Mountain View’s Kailey Welch.

“That (finish) doesn’t necessarily mean a “slam dunk’’ (on his choice for the No. 7 spot), but it was a good sign,’’ Van Sickle said.

Other XCP finishers in the sectional . . .

Senior Caroline Liddy, 5th at 19:25.7, junior Karina Smith, 10th at 19:47.4, sophomore Grace Valandra, 16th at 20:11.6, sophomore Kristen Keeble, 18th at 20:15.1, junior Karli Baker, 20th at 20:18.0, and senior Annika Nielson, 23rd at 20:20.7.

The six Xavier runners getting some extra rest were junior Helen Innes, senior Caroline McClelland, freshman Camille Merickel, sophomore Mia Olsen, freshman Jamie Stelnik and senior Kate Straneva.

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