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, November 1, 2018

Runners 1-2 in sectional, now ready for state

Just like in 2017, the race for the Division I cross country state championship is expected to come down to two teams – winner Chandler and runner-up Xavier Prep.

But it was Xavier that was the most impressive on Thursday (Nov. 1) in the Division I, Section I meet at Cesar Chavez Park in Laveen.

The Gators had five runners finish in the top 10 (63 runners total), including the winner, junior Mia Olsen, and runner-up, sophomore Jamie Stelnik.

Other top-10 finishers in the 5,000-meter race were sophomore Sammy Braun, seventh, senior Karina Smith, ninth, and senior Helen Innes, 10th. And two more Gators ran well – senior Karina Hawkins, 13th, and junior Grace Valandra, 16th.

Olsen finished 18th at state a year ago, Stelnik was 11th, Innes was 19th and Hawkins was 20th.

Thursday’s race was a challenge. Cesar Chavez Park is a lovely setting, but can be somewhat of a danger for those trying to run in such an important event. There are potholes seemingly every couple of feet, and one misstep could cause a runner to tumble with an ankle injury or worse, possibly a knee.

“We were lucky to get through it and stay healthy,’’ Olsen said. “You need to stay healthy, stay strong at this point of the season and I think we are.’’

Stelnik was happy to contribute to a strong effort by the team, “but we can’t get too confident. We have to continue to work like we have during the season. You never know what’s going to happen at state.’’

The course at the state tournament has covered the smallish, rolling hills at the Cave Creek municipal golf course in north Phoenix for quite some time. This year’s event will be Nov. 10 (Saturday).

“We have run all types of courses during the season and trained for hills, so it shouldn’t be anything new. We are still one of the top contenders,’’ Hawkins said.

Figuring out the hills and accounting for the weather, which could be warmer than Thursday’s race, will be part of the equation, according to Braun.

“The race will start at 12:30 (p.m.), so we might have to be a little more conservative at first, but we know we are going to have to finish strong,’’ she said. “It looks like it will be us and Chandler.’’

She added that the team would start its final week of preparation with its usual distance work, then taper down leading up to the meet.

According to Xavier coach Dave Van Sickle, Chandler was missing a runner or two on Thursday. But the Wolves did have the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, Mihajla Milovanovic and Becca Taylor, respectively. Milovanovic was third at state a year ago, Taylor eighth.

“I like the way we are matched up,’’ Van Sickle said. “It looks good for us, but you still have to go out and do it when it counts.’’

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