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.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Gator runners proud of their third-place finish

 It really came to no surprise that the school that would have its name engraved on the Division I state championship cross-country trophy would be Gilbert Highland, for the second straight year on Saturday (Nov. 12) at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix.

And the Hawks came through with an effort for the ages, with six of their seven runners finishing in the top 10 to win it all with a microscopic 20 points over Phoenix Desert Vista (65).

As impressive as those two teams were, there was another whose accomplishments throughout the season with its hard work and resolve resulted in a very satisfying third-place finish – the Xavier Prep Gators.

Led by the No. 10 individual finisher, senior Reese Brown, Xavier totaled 146 points. The rest of the active Gator contingent finished 28 (senior Nora Hinkle), 34 (junior Julia Russo), 39 (senior Bella Gomez), 46 (freshman Ella Wadsworth), 51 (junior Lily Beaver) and 68 (senior Kylie Graf) in the 149-runner field.

Xavier Prep senior Nora Hinkle.

Perhaps the happiest of the blue-clad Gator nation was the school’s long-time coach, Dave Van Sickle. As usual, he started the season not truly knowing where his team would wind up, and began to see something special in this group day by day and week by week and how it approached its work.

“We progressed all the way through,’’ he said Saturday. “This year, we had our best race at the end.

“This was a group of super intelligent kids. They understand what they are doing. They listened to the explanations of why things are done a certain way and tried to apply them.’’

Van Sickle is expected to have a similar group in 2023 when most of this year’s underclassmen will return.

Back when Hinkle was an underclassman as a sophomore, Van Sickle taught a weight-training class and noticed a few potential cross-country runners in the group. One was Hinkle, who seemed obsessed with pounding away on the treadmill. He asked her to join the cross-country group and she took it from there.

“We knew there were times when we would not win every race, but coach impressed on us the idea of being ready and I think we were most of the time,’’ Hinkle said.

“It was all about working and being part of a second family. I am so proud of each and every one of these girls.’’

Hinkle would like to study pre-med and biology and maybe run at the collegiate level. She has her eye on a couple of schools in the East – Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Wherever she winds up, she will be certain to apply many valuable assets that she picked up during her lengthy running and academic experiences at Xavier.

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Note: Emma Baugh and sister Cloe Baugh of Highland ran 1-2 in the individual race. Emma Baugh was state runner-up a year ago.

Team scores – Gilbert Highland 20, Phoenix Desert Vista 65, Xavier Prep 146, Gilbert Perry 164, Chandler Hamilton 200, Mesa Mountain View 211, Queen Creek High 218, Chander High 242, Marana High 257, Tucson Rincon/University 258, Chandler Basha 269, Mesa Red Mountain 309, Anthem Boulder Creek 369, Tempe Corona del Sol 379, Glendale Mountain Ridge 382, Phoenix Carl Hayden 494, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 505, Phoenix North 537.

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