Chris Hanson is going to have to deal with it much like cross country runners in Arizona have to deal with heat.

It's there from the start of the season, can be stifling if it isn't handled correctly and it isn't going anywhere until the end of the year.

While the heat is something his runners have to deal with every year, being the preseason favorite is not always the case for the Thunder. Desert Vista is always a big-school contender but not necessarily everyone's pick to be the one everyone is chasing.

That changes this year with the Thunder receiving some national recognition - they are ranked No. 23 by the highly-regarded Marc Bloom's 2011 Super 25 - before the year starts.

Hanson prefers the former.

"I'd definitely prefer to be the hunter than the hunted, sort of wait in the shadows until the right time to break out," Hanson said. "We've talked about (the national ranking) and the pressure. As long as you use it the right way, it can be a good thing.

"It's the preseason so I don't count anyone out at this point. Talent doesn't mean anything if you don't work hard."

Much like the heat there is no escaping the expectations in 2011. Most of last year's top runners are returning with the idea of earning a fifth state title for the school.

It starts with three juniors - Ryan Dykstra (10th overall at state), Carter Macey (17th at state) and Spencer Clason (52nd at state) - leading the way while senior Nick Koogian and sophomore Andrew Hermanski provide quality depth.

The team has replaced Ryan Maack (seventh at state), Griffin Clithero (43rd at state), who graduated, and senior Grayson Hacker, who decided to concentrate on football.

Hanson singled out the team's depth, focus and character as reasons the Thunder, which was third at state last season, should contend for the Division I title.

It also helps that Dykstra should improve on his state time of 16 minutes and 18.68 seconds, while Macey (16:25.46) and Clason (17:25.46) will look to break into the top 10 and top 25, respectively.

Mountain Pointe, based on last year's state results, have some quality runners coming back, assuming everyone returns to the team.

The Pride finished a disappointing 17th in Division I a year ago. The good news is three of their top four placers are seniors this year.

Daniel Riley, Jalen Armstrong and Tommy Bello should be the team's leader and a school as big as Mountain Pointe will always bring some new quality bodies to finish out the rest of the team.

Riley finished 51st overall with a time of 17:13.91, while Armstrong (17:27.17) and Bello (18:10.10) were 67th and 126th, respectively.

Horizon Honors is coming off a seventh place finish at the Division IV state meet a year ago. The Eagles have a solid senior class back to try and keep that level of success.

It starts with Galen Geislinger as the No. 1 with Matthew Richardson, Antoni Grgurovic and Sam Frost pushing for other scoring positions.

Geislinger will try to finish higher than last year's 45th place when he clocked a time of 18:33.56, while Richardson was 49th and Grgurovic was 90th and Frost was 98th.

"The runners will work hard and put forth all of their energy and speed at the meets," Horizon Honors coach Lura Beets said.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter at JSkodaAFN

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