STATE MEET: Centennial boys chasing repeat

Centennial’s boys cross country team has been waiting for this moment all season: the Class 4A state meet.

The Bulldogs are the defending champions and led by 2010 individual champ Nick Hartle, who is ranked No. 24 in the nation, according to track website

“We’ve just got the next one to worry about,” Hartle said after he cruised to victory at the Sunset Region meet last week, covering the 3.1-mile course in 16 minutes, 11.9 seconds.

Hartle and the Bulldogs will look to repeat at Saturday’s state meet at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno. The meet begins with the Class 2A girls race at 10 a.m.

The venue might be the toughest opponent for Centennial. Traditionally, there is a  significant home-field advantage when the races are held in Northern Nevada. Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, a 3.1-mile course, is dominated by hills, which might help explain why no large-school Southern Nevada boys team has won at the park since 1987.

The problem for runners from the South is compounded by altitude — 4,934-feet elevation in the center of the park — and weather. The forecast for the weekend in Reno calls for snow showers and temperatures in the low 40s.

The Bulldogs went 1-2-4 at the region meet, led by Hartle, a senior, and two sophomores, George Espino and Jackson Carter.

“They performed like I knew they could, like they’ve been doing all year,” sixth-year Centennial coach Mike McGuire said. “We’re in a good spot for state.”

Centennial’s average time of 17:23.3 over the regional course at Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder City compared favorably with Green Valley, the top qualifier from the Sunrise Region. The Gators averaged 17:52.5 for their five scoring runners. Northern Region champion Galena averaged 17:55 in its race at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.

The key for how well Green Valley does at state might come down to its fifth runner. The Gators’ top four — Doug Harris, Christian Fortner, Michael Patrino and Alex Bylina — finished in the top eight at the region meet and all within 22 seconds of each other. Tyler Fyock and Ben Stock finished more than 35 seconds back in 20th and 21st, respectively.

Gorman and Tech were the other two Southern Nevada teams to qualify for state. It’s a first for Gorman’s boys.

Del Sol senior Nick Priego, winner of the Sunrise Region, had the fastest time (17:23.3) of the 10 area individual qualifiers.

If the Centennial boys were a “lock” to make it to state, the Centennial girls were anything but. The Bulldogs didn’t qualify for state in 2010 and were undergoing a coaching change.

“When (assistant) coach Asha (Padmanabhan) and I took over the program this year, we did not know what to expect,” Bulldogs coach Roy Sessions said. “With only two returning girls from last year’s team that missed state, we looked at this year as a rebuilding year.

“With only 15 girls on the team, we were happy. With such a small group, we could really work on our philosophy and build for the future. We challenged our girls to run for each other, run for their school and run for the team.”

That they did, led by sophomore Sydney Badger, who ran away from everyone at the Sunset Region meet, winning in 18:57.4. Only one other runner in the two region races, Palo Verde sophomore Marissa Suan (19:55.8), broke 20 minutes.

Centennial easily outscored Sunset runner-up Arbor View, 46-73. The Bulldogs’ five scoring runners averaged 20:43.7, compared with Sunrise winner Coronado’s 21:14.8. Northern champion Carson posted an average time of 21:21.

Sophomore Sara Dort, winner of the Sunrise race in 20:32.9, paces Coronado.

Leading the individual qualifiers at state will be two sophomores: Suan and Sunrise Mountain’s Ebonique Diaz, who finished runner-up to Dort in the Sunrise.