40-team Las Vegas Invitational cross country meet set for Saturday

The 38th annual Las Vegas Invitational is the biggest cross country meet of the year in Southern Nevada, with 40 teams and more than 1,000 athletes entered from Nevada, California, Utah and Arizona.

The event is Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder City, with the first race scheduled for 7:35 a.m.

First held in 1969 at UNLV, the meet initially comprised collegiate and prep runners, according to Larry Burgess, who served as meet director for 22 years before retiring.

Once UNLV dropped its men’s program, the meet became a prep-only event, but the campus continued to serve as the site. In 1994, the meet was moved to Basic.

“The teams who came each year from out of state became the backbone of the meet,” Burgess said. “Some years, we had 15 to 20 teams running from California and Arizona.”

Several elite distance runners participated in the Las Vegas Invitational over the years.

Kira Jorgensen, a three-time Foot Locker National champion, won all four years she ran in the mid-1980s. Deena Drossin, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon, competed in the late 1980s.

After Burgess retired in 2004, the meet lost some of its luster and the number of out-of-state teams dropped off.

This year, Del Sol coach John Dixon and Basic coach Will Wells moved the event from Basic to Veterans Memorial Park — the site of the Nevada state championships.

Getting the meet recognized as a DyeStat featured meet this year was also a big boost.

This year’s field includes two ranked teams from California. The Rancho Buena Vista boys are No. 10 in California and the Fountain Valley girls No. 7, according to DyeStat’s rankings.

Rancho Buena Vista won the large-school boys division and Fountain Valley won the large-school girls title in 2007. The individual winners of those races — Collin Jarvis and Heather Zytkewicz — were both from Rancho Buena Vista and return this year as seniors.

Two other out-of-state boys to watch for this year are Karl Wilcock of Hurricane, Utah, who was fourth in the large-school race in 2007, and touted freshman Scott Gisel of Rancho Bueno Vista.

A top entry on the girls side, in addition to Zytkewicz, is sophomore teammate Shanna St. Laurent, last year’s runner-up.

The top local individuals figure to be Foothill senior Leah Leedy and Centennial junior Nathan Williams.

Leedy, who was fourth in the large-school race last year, has started this season in spectacular fashion. Williams, who was third at state in 2007, is expected to improve this year.

Other locals who have looked particularly strong in early meets include Palo Verde’s Daniel Wicks and Zack Smith, Green Valley’s Julius Kim, Boulder City’s Matt Lundgren, Centennial’s Brittany Williams and Adrielle Wechsler, Arbor View’s Katie Carrell and Coronado’s Michaelanne Laurent.

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