'Big' perfect description for Labor Day Invitational

Only one word aptly describes the first major Southern Nevada cross country meet of the young season: big.

Both defending Class 4A state champions — Centennial’s boys and Palo Verde’s girls — lead a cast of 18 teams that will compete Saturday at the Palo Verde Labor Day Invitational.

The meet will feature four varsity races: Freshmen-Sophomore girls and boys, and Junior-Senior girls and boys. Team scores will be compiled by combining the times of the top finishers in the two varsity races.

The event showcases many of the top returning runners in Southern Nevada, with the first race beginning at 8 a.m.

“It is promising to be a great race with one of the best campus courses in Las Vegas,” Palo Verde boys coach Luke Atwell said. “With the help of Rogich Middle School, we have a 2.8-mile race on mostly grass. This is a fun race, and many teams look forward to running it here at Palo Verde every year.”

The meet will feature five of the top 10 boys teams — Centennial, Tech, Green Valley, Coronado and Arbor View — and four of the top five girls teams — Palo Verde, Arbor View, Coronado and Green Valley — in the preseason coaches poll.

The Bulldog boys are the preseason No. 1 team and are looking to get off to a good start.

“I’m really looking forward to my senior year and am really working hard to leading my teammates to another state title,” said Centennial’s Nick Hartle, the defending individual state champion. “It’s been too long since a Southern boys team has won up North.”

Twenty-four years, to be exact.

The last time a Southern Nevada team won the largest classification’s cross country championship in the North was 1987, when Pat Hubbard led Basic to the state title at San Rafael Park in Reno. There wasn’t even a Class 4A then.

The championships are held in the North on odd years; the race returns to Reno, and San Rafael Park, this November.

Palo Verde’s girls will also be looking to break a long drought. The last time a top class girls team from Southern Nevada won in the North was 1999, when Abby Miller led Green Valley to the state title.

“We have an enormous amount of freshmen, and they’re all great runners,” said Palo Verde sophomore Katie Gorczyca, the defending individual state champ. “We’ve been training hard this summer and (I) can’t wait to start racing.”

The boys junior-senior race will feature Hartle and Barbose Bahati of Clark, Mark Hickey and Ryan Gehring of Coronado, Alex Bylina and Doug Harris of Green Valley, and Zach Zimdars and Ken Lawrence of Tech.

The boys freshman-sophomore race will showcase four of last year’s top young runners who all qualified for state: Martin Ponce and Miguel Garcia of Tech and Jackson Carter and George Espino of Centennial.

The girls junior-senior race likely will feature Andrea Gonzalez, Amberly Halstead and Randi Withoft of Arbor View; Ashley Koch and Sarah Leiserowitz of Palo Verde; Taylor Coss of Tech; Summer Holloway of Green Valley; and Kelly Smith of Coronado among the leaders. All were state qualifiers in 2010.

The girls freshman-sophomore race will feature a plethora of top runners. In addition to state champ Gorczyca, Palo Verde returns Marissa Suan, their No. 3 runner at state in 2010. Coronado and Green Valley both have three runners who went to state as freshmen last year: Coronado’s Sara Dort, Logan Lucas, and Emma Czerwinski; and Green Valley’s Lindy Eskin, Stacie Hall, and Kayla Anderson.
One incoming freshman to watch on Saturday will be Hannah Pavlov of Faith Lutheran.