Dani Jones

Desert Vista junior Dani Jones started getting national recognition after winning the Desert Twilight event at Toka Sticks in October and finished her season as a Division I champ and All-American.

By Margot Kelly, Special to AFN

For once Dani Jones didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to impress.

The Desert Vista junior is usually so proficient at performing well at big events that it was surprising, but understandable as Jones was held out of the Chandler Rotary, the state’s premier event, on March 21.

Jones was dealing with shin splints and the idea was to make sure she was ready for the Arcadia Invitational, which happens to get under way today.

So the Arizona state champion in Division I cross country, 800- and 1,600-meter races gets on a bus — along with 40 or so track athletes from the Tempe Union High School District — Friday and heads to California, leaving from Desert Vista at 6 a.m.

“I feel good,” Jones said before a recent practice. “It’s going to be great competition. I’ll be ready.”

The Arcadia Invite, which is at Arcadia High in Los Angeles, is one of the most prestigious events in the country and brings in a field that is tough to match anywhere during the high school season in the elite division.

“Arcadia is still the biggest invite in the country,” Thunder boys coach Chris Hanson said, “so it will broaden our horizons.”

That’s the hope for the area athletes heading to Arcadia, while the rest of the team heads to the Sun Angel Classic at Arizona State.

Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe are sending 13 competitors each to Arcadia, while Corona del Sol has 20 on the bus and Tempe High has six.

The Pride is headed to the event for the first time as first-year coach Tim O’Neil saw the benefits firsthand as an assistant at Brophy in recent years.

“This is the No. 1 high school track and field competition in the U.S. and the Pride track program will be attending for the first time,” he said. “We are so very excited to give our athletes an opportunity to compete with some of the very best in the U.S. (Brophy) athletes like Ray Polk, Harry Danilevics, Trent Murphy and Devon Allen participated in this meet and it played a major role in their success.”

Heading to California for a weekend is the first step in O’Neil’s plan of development to help take the Pride to the next level.

“I really believe it is our responsibility, as coaches, to give our athletes the very best opportunity for success,” he said. “Providing them an opportunity to compete with the very best athletes in the nation does just that.”

Leading the way for the Pride is junior sprinter Paul Lucas, who has the nation’s second best time in the 200-meter dash (20.91 seconds).

He also has the top time in Arizona on the 100 (10.52) and is the defending champion of the 400.

The Pride’s 4x100 relay team (AJ Davalos, Isaiah Banks, Cullen Washabaugh and Nicolas Sibley if Lucas doesn’t run) and Trey Lauer (hurdles) will also be competing.

The Pride girls will be represented by Rees Young (horizontal jumps), Madison Deucker (pole vault), Annika Krietenstein (pole vault), while Autumn Smith (hurdles), Brittany Patterson, Chynna Simmons and Danielle Burns will be in the 4x100.

The Thunder will have its 4x800, horizontal jumper Demali Britton, Shannon Fritz (pole vault, high jump), pole vaulters Aliya Simpson and Vanessa Davis, thrower McKenzi Holmes-DiGiovine, distance runners Amanda Davis, Mason Swenson, Baylee Jones and Dani Jones on the girls side.

For the boys miler Jacob Walimaa, hurdler Cole Tippit, pole vaulter Jake Alme and discus thrower Jordan Rezac will make the trip for Desert Vista.

The rest of the roster for both teams will be in Tempe for the Sun Angel, but it is clear that the Arcadia Invite is the place to be this weekend.

“Over 700 high schools from around the U.S. and other countries attend the Arcadia Invitational,” O’Neil said. “Being accepted into the meet is a major accomplishment in of itself. This year over 2,000 athletes who met the minimum qualifying standards for entry were not selected to participate in this year’s competition.”

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

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