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.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Xavier finds best way to win -- right here, right now

Right here, right now.

That was the motivational slogan on the back of the green T-shirts worn by members of Xavier Prep’s cross-country team at the Division I state championship meet on Saturday (Nov. 10) at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix.

The Gators took care of business by placing five of its runners in the top 22 finishers and unseated defending champion Chandler High to win XCP’s 10th title in the sport and first since 2012.

Xavier scored 71 points, with Chandler getting 93 points for the runner-up spot and Gilbert Highland taking third at 105.

Junior Mia Olsen and sophomore Jamie Stelnik led the way, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, among 145 runners over the 5K course on the warm and breezy day.

The other three point-scorers for Xavier were junior Grace Valandra at No. 18, senior Karina Hawkins at No. 19 and senior Karina Smith at No. 22. Sophomore Sammy Braun and senior Helen Innes were 23rd and 36th, respectively.

Xavier's 2018 cross-country champions, with coach Dave Van Sickle, top left, and Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor, center, in blue vest. (Photo by Don Ketchum).
“We figured that Chandler would be the team to beat, but we were focused,’’ said long-time Xavier coach Dave Van Sickle.

Asked about the team’s mindset entering the event after winning the D-I, Section I meet about a week before, Van Sickle said, “We were just in the right place. We were not too nervious and we were not too confident. We were in a good spot. We were definitely motivated.’’

The Gators’ order of finish was a bit of a surprise. In his head, he had some runners finishing higher and some lower.

“But it all worked out. It’s great,’’ he said.

Olsen and Stelnik did what they have been doing all year, running in close tandem.

“They ran the full distance every week. They run as hard as they can,’’ Van Sickle said.

Olsen said she had been working toward this moment since she was a freshman.

“It’s an amazing feeling,’’ she said. “Going into the meet, we talked about how much into it we were going to need to be mentally, and we did that.’’

Said Stelnik: “Last year, we might have been a little too confident, but we weren’t this year. We still had confidence. We knew we could do it. For me, I just wanted to stay calm and tried not to let anybody pass me.’’

The runners enjoyed the trophy presentation, and medals went to the top 21 individuals. One fan (probably a parent) passed out flowers to the girls, and the team posed for more pictures afterward, including some with Xavier Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor.

It’s always good to get another title. Xavier made another strong finish for the fall sports. Golf and volleyball also won championships and swimming/diving was state runner-up.

“Let me tell you that winning does not get old,’’ Van Sickle said.

Division I championship team scores

Xavier Prep 71, Chandler High 93, Gilbert Highland 105, Phoenix Desert Vista 120, Mesa Red Mountain 156, Scottsdale Chaparral 181, Mesa Skyline 188, Glendale Mountain Ridge 199, Gilbert Perry 205, Mesa Mountain View 310, Phoenix Maryvale 329, Anthem Boulder Creek 341, Chandler Hamilton 346, Mesa Desert Ridge 358, Yuma Cibola 370, Tempe Corona del Sol 409, Phoenix Mountain Pointe 467, Queen Creek 507, Surprise Shadow Ridge 511, Chandler Basha 535.

Xavier Prep results

Mia Olsen, Jr., fifth, 19:09.15; Jamie Stelnik, So., seventh, 19:17.06; Grace Valandra, Jr., 18th, 20:00.45; Karina Hawkins, Sr., 19th, 20:12.96; Karina Smith, Sr., 22nd, 22:20.18; Sammy Braun, So., 23rd, 20:23.76; Helen Innes, Sr., 36th, 20:48.87.

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