The cross country schedule essentially has an invitational meet every weekend, but there are some circled in red.

It’s where all of the top programs end up to test their individuals against the state’s best.

For a long time that event in September was the Doug Conley Invitational at Tempe’s Kiwanis Park, but when it moved to October and changed venues, the Desert Twilight, which is hosted at night at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa, became the elite meet.

“Other than state this is the meet of the year,” Desert Vista boys coach Chris Hanson said. “It outranks some of the better meets in the state because of the out-of-state competitors. They want to run on this course because the Nike (western qualifier) is held there in November.”

The Thunder has had a difficult schedule already, including a trip to California for the 32nd annual Woodbridge Classic in California two weekends ago, and performed well to cement its place as one the top boys teams in the West.

Desert Vista finished 11th in the sweepstakes race at Woodbridge against a very good field.

“We’ve done some good things against some good competition,” Hanson said. “Our freshmen finished second overall (at Woodbridge) and our seniors third. It’s kind of what I expected as those are the two classes really pushing us.”

Being pushed is what the Twilight is all about.

The Mountain Pointe girls will be competing in the varsity large race, while the boys are not entering as a team but have individuals running. A couple of weeks after running in the Mt. Carmel event in California, Mountain Pointe runners are getting another chance to see top flight competitors.

“It is important to get that exposure so they can see what it takes to compete at that level,” Pride boys coach David Allison said. “(Yuma Cibola senior) Bernie Montoya is special. Seeing Xavier and Desert Vista and what they do to be successful every year is something our young teams can learn from.”

While the Pride will be taking the you-only-get-better-by-facing-the-best approach, the Thunder boys just might be the best.

Some of the reasons why are because of the emergence of Carter Macey as one the state’s elite along with freshman Xavier Esparza proving himself to be a legitimate varsity runner.

Macey has continued to develop after finishing seventh in the state meet last year as he finished 27th in 15 minutes flat in the sweepstakes race at Woodbridge, which drew the best runners across California and the Southwest.

“That was pretty impressive and we have time in the season to develop even more and get that (sub-15),” Hanson said. “We’ve been holding him out and keeping the mileage volume down so he has fresh legs.”

Macey has been the Thunder’s top runner for the last few years, but he has a new mental approach that is paying off in the best way possible.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Hanson said. “He is very focused when it comes to racing and meeting times. He is all business. He is still forgetting his running shoes and I feel like I am babysitting him at times, but when it’s about performing his hard work is starting to show.”

Other top runners include Ryan Smith, Jacob Walimaa, Tyler Bonebright, Alec Hoyt and Kyle Havriliak, but the one Hanson might be most excited about — simply because he has so many years left with him — is Esparza.

He hasn’t run all that much with the varsity, but he finished as runner-up in the freshmen race at Woodbridge, won the Sole Sports JV race and won the freshmen race at the Chandler Invitational.

“He is a stud,” Hudson said. “I think by the end of the season he will be right on the edge of being one of top runners. Really he has been there all year, but he is running in the freshmen races and gaining confidence so if we need him at the end of the year he will be ready.”

After this weekend the invitational schedule only has the Conley (Oct. 13) meet before the postseason starts with the Tempe City (Oct. 19), the sectional (Oct. 26) and state (Nov. 3).

“It is coming fast,” Hanson said. “Hopefully, we will be, too.”


Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on the Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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