With several of the area’s top cross country names competing elsewhere, Saturday’s Falcon Invitational represented an opportunity for others to step forward.
For juniors Conner Nicholas of Desert Oasis and Myna Buckley of Foothill, that opportunity resulted in first-place finishes during the junior-senior races held at Foothill High School.
Nicholas gradually pulled away during the second half of the 3.1-mile course which went around the school, winning in 16 minutes and 33 seconds.
Buckley used the knowledge of her home course to her advantage, pulling ahead on the final climb on the third and final loop to hold off Sierra Vista’s Sarriah Brown. Buckley clocked in at 19:15, two seconds ahead of Brown.
In addition to their individual victories, Nicholas and Buckley also led their respective squads to first-place finishes in the team standings.
Both of the junior-senior races were competitive early. However, Nicholas’ plan was to go out front early on and stay there.
“My coach said this meet was a chance for me to go for the win,” Nicholas said. “I wanted to get out and front and force everyone else to chase me for a change. Every time, someone came up to push me, I made sure that I kept in front.”
His strategy worked out quite well as Nicholas was among a leading trio for the first half of the race along with Faith Lutheran’s Koby Ghadery and Bishop Gorman’s Massimiliano Swenson. However, Nicholas started to open a small gap shortly after the halfway point during the second loop of the course. He kept slowly building up the lead and won by 14 seconds over Swenson. Ghadery finished third in 16:49 followed by Desert Oasis’ Brien Hosier (16:59).
The Diamondbacks scored 38 points to easily wind up atop the boys team standings. Faith Lutheran took second with 71 points and Sierra Vista finished with 120.
The girls race ended up fairly close throughout.
Buckley was in a leading pack of four along with Basic senior Raquel Chavez and a pair of runners from Sierra Vista: Brown and Baileigh Sundin. Chavez took a short lead shortly after a mile, but then was overtaken by Buckley and Brown during the second hill climb around the midway point of the race.
“I wanted to keep pace behind some people early on and then take advantage of the hilly section,” Buckley said. “I’m strong up the hills and tried to keep it loose on the downhill parts. I got the lead on the final hill and I tried to make sure I kept it.”
Buckley had enough to keep Brown at bay while Sundin wound up third in 19:43 and Chavez fourth (20:11).
Foothill scored 30 points to win the girls team standings followed by Shadow Ridge (73) and Bishop Gorman (74).
The fastest time among girls for the entire meet actually came in the freshman-sophomore race where Desert Pines sophomore Jazmin Felix crossed the finish line in 18:56, a full two minutes in front of everyone else in the field.
Faith Lutheran’s Aidan Baughan won the boys freshman-sophomore race in 17:11.