* Woods Cross (UT) senior Carlee Hansen spoke to MileSplit ahead of the Desert Twilight Invitational
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The Desert Twilight Invitational holds new significance in 2020.
The Arizona meet could ultimately go down as one of the best competitions in the country for the entire calendar year. With other major competitions pushed back a year due to travel restrictions or caution over COVID-19, Desert Twilight will welcome in -- safely, of course -- runners from a handful of states, including the likes of Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado and Texas, among others.
And ultimately, that will make this meet the premier competition of the weekend, and one of the best of the year.
Below, we've branched out a number of elite athletes and teams headed to Casa Grande on Friday.
Club Sweepstakes Girls Race -- 7:35 p.m. MST
Club Sweepstakes Boys Race -- 8:10 p.m. MST
HS Sweepstakes Girls Race -- 8:45 p.m. MST
HS Sweepstakes Boys Race -- 9:25 p.m. MST
Julia David-Smith, Issaquah, WA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Girls
With the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association delaying its season until March 2021 -- in a scheduling move that will see cross country and outdoor track overlap by at least by a week -- it's forced athletes like David-Smith to seek alternative planning. And that's ultimately what David-Smith, who committed to the University of Washington recently, has done. On Sept. 25, the Issaquah senior and two-time Team XC Nationals finisher traveled to Queen Creek, Arizona, and won her debut at the Desert Daylight Invitational in 17:01.91.
Ava Gordon, Loudoun Valley, VA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Girls
A return to cross country in Virginia was pushed all the way to February 2021. And so that's one reason why Gordon, who was the VHSL Class 4 champion a year ago, is traveling to Arizona. But this will be a fast one for Gordon. As a sophomore, she only broke 18 minutes once, and that came on the Team XC Southeast course in North Carolina, where Gordon ran 17:34.30. But Desert Twilight's Casa Grande might elicit a career-best for the Virginian.
Ava Parekh, Chicago Latin, IL: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Girls
The Illinois leader and US No. 2 ranked athlete for 3-miles is two weeks off that sterling performance of 16:43.80 on Sept. 19 at the Whitney Young Invitational. But while this will be Parekh's first cross country race outside Illinois state lines since November -- when she placed 13th at Foot Locker Midwest -- it will be her second trip to Arizona since June. Parekh ran 5:01.32 for 1-mile and 10:32.96 for 3,200m at the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational just a few months ago.
Stormy Wallace, Sage Creek, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Girls
A sixth-place finisher at last year's CIF State Division 4 Cross Country Championships, this will be Wallace's debut. She ran a career-best 5K effort of 17:35.40 at the Foot Locker West Regional last December, though that course was on pavement for large stretches. Wallace is just a junior.
Siena Palicke, Yorba Linda, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Girls
A fourth-place finisher at the CIF Division 4 Cross Country Championships, the UCLA-bound Palicke certainly has some credentials. She ran a 5K best of 17:57.30 at Woodward Park, netting the 44th-best performance for the distance in California that season. She also ran 17:01.60 for 3-miles at Woodbridge, too. But Palicke is also a dual-threat. As much as her talent shines on the course, she's also a social media star, with over 110-thousand followers on Tik Tok.
Dalia Frias, Mira Costa, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Girls
Frias was one of California's best underclassmen in 2019. Among other performances, she finished ninth at Woodbridge, second at the CIF Southern Section Finals and was third overall at the CIF State Division I Cross Country Championships in 17:38.40 at Woodward Park. Frias wasn't finished, though. She qualified for Foot Locker Nationals with her eighth-place performance at Foot Locker West. She would eventually finish 32nd overall at Foot Locker in 2019. This will mark Frias' first official race since March.
Kellen Steplight, Vacaville, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys
Nearly two seasons removed from his freshman 1,600m performance of 4:16.90 at the CIF State Championships, Steplight will be looking to make the next step in XC as he furthers his career overall. A state qualifier in Division 2 a season ago, he finished 34th overall and ran a 5K best of 15:42.50.
Colin Peattie, Bellarmine College Prep, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Menlo iGreyhounds
Arguably the top boys athlete in California in 2020. He was ranked No. 13 on MileSplit's preseason top 25 countdown. Peattie ran a 5K best of 14:54.40 at Foot Locker West in 2019 and finished 22nd overall at Foot Locker Nationals. At Woodward Park, however, he also ran an impressive time of 15:06.80 at the CIF Division 1 XC Championships, helping Bellarmine Prep to a third-place team finish overall. With a new season a few months ahead, Peattie will look to tune-up.
Nolan Topper, Bellarmine College Prep, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Menlo iGreyhounds
Part of a stacked Bellarmine Prep squad, Topper was also ranked in Milesplit's preseason top 25 at No. 24. Like Peattie, he also qualified for Foot Locker Nationals in 2019, scoring a seventh-place finish at Foot Locker West with a 5K PR of 14:55.20. His top 5K performance otherwise was at the CIF Championships, where he was just places behind Peattie in sixth and finished in 15:08.40. He also finished eighth in the sweepstakes races at Mt. SAC.
Nicholas Goldstein, Newbury Park, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- NP Athletic Club
Goldstein laced up for a fast 3,200m time trial in May and managed a very impressive 9:05. All signs point to the senior being one of Newbury Park's best runners in 2020-2021, but Saturday will give him his first opportunity to show it. He ran a 3-mile best of 14:25.60 at Woodbridge in 2019 and went 15:17.00 for 5K at the CIF State Cross Country Championships.
Colin Sahlman, Newbury Park, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- NP Athletic Club
This will be an anticipated junior debut for Sahlman, who was Newbury Park's third runner across the line at Team XC Nationals last December. This spring, Sahlman ran a US No. 3 mark of 8:34.68 for 3K in February, but Saturday will mark his first official race in seven months. On a course reminiscent of Woodbridge, Sahlman has an opportunity to test himself against some of the top runners in the country. A year ago, the then-sophomore ran 14:26.90 for 3-miles at Woodbridge.
Isaiah Givens, Pasadena, CA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Pasadena
Givens had a fantastic sophomore season, claiming three wins across the campaign and an 11th-place effort at the CIF Division 3 Cross Country Championships. He followed that season with glaring improvements, putting down a 1-mile best of 4:16.52 and a 3,200m best of 9:16.03 at the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational. If his fitness is where it was in June, Givens will have a good opportunity to make some noise here.
Larry Josh Edwards, University, WV: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Unat.
Josh Edwards seems like he could be ready to roll. The West Virginia native opened his 2020 season this past week with a US No. 9 time of 15:00.31. And Saturday's race will mark the second time in as many weeks he'll be competing out-of-state. But that might not be an unfamiliar trend in 2020 for the West Virginian. It will be incumbent on Josh Edwards to find competitive races this fall. As of Thursday, only 40 sanctioned races were on the WVSSAC website, and just nine of them were scheduled in October. His schedule was fairly light in West Virginia last year anyway, with just three races in the state. But the fact remains: Josh Edwards will likely be on the hunt for races outside state lines this fall.
Jack Scherer, Oshkosh North, WI: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Unat.
An athlete with a lot to gain here is Scherer. Much like Larry Josh Edwards and Judson Greer, Scherer is also being trained by Tinman Elite coach Tom Schwartz. But unlike those two, Scherer has been more under the radar -- even though he just committed to NAU. A season ago, the Wisconsin native finished 21st at the Team XC Heartland Regional with a season-best time of 15:41.00. But in June, he added a performance of 9:12.60 for 3,200m at the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational. Two months later, he went 14:45.88 in an outdoor 5K at the Music City Distance Carnival.
Isaac Teeples, Kamiakin, WA: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Unat.
Much like David-Smith, Teeples has been forced to plan alternatively. But unlike his Washington peer, Teeples will be making his debut at Desert Twilight. Teeples' PR from 2019 was 14:34.17. While it's unlikely to expect a career-best from the Washington athlete on his first try in 2020, there's also no reason to think he won't hang with the lead pack, either. Teeples was one of the only sophomores in the country to qualify for Team XC Nationals a season ago.
Noah Espeleta, Bishop Gorman, NV: Unattached Club Sweepstakes Boys -- Unat.
This is a flier on Espeleta, who was third in the 3K at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in August. The junior ran a time of 9:35.45 for 15-16-year-olds. A year ago, as a sophomore, he was 20th at the Nevada state championships. But interestingly enough, in his first race in 2020, he ran a career-best time of 15:46.00 for 5K. That time was nearly 90 seconds better than his career-best year-over-year.
Lauren Ping, AZ, Desert Vista: HS Sweepstakes Girls
Ping is the returning girls runner-up at the Desert Twilight Invitational, having run a PR of 16:49.13 for 5K at the Casa Grande course in 2019. Ping ultimately knows what it takes to succeed on this course. Months after that performance a year ago, she was at Casa Grande again during the Team XC Southwest Regional and endured a hot day to finish in 17:22.03. Ultimately, it will take a measured performance to win. But Ping has the ability to make that happen. She has two races under her belt in 2020 and has finished in 17:05.20 and 17:01.78 for 5K, respectively. Her former time is currently US No. 8.
Mia Hall, Flagstaff, AZ: HS Sweepstakes Girls
The younger sister of Hana Hall and the adopted daughter of Olympians Ryan and Sara Hall, Mia ran 5:11.35 for 1-mile at the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational. Previously, she ran 11:32.18 for 3,200m in March.
Tatum David, IMG Academy, FL: HS Sweepstakes Girls
David has been absolutely unstoppable to begin 2020. The Foot Locker Nationals All-American from 2019 has won three straight races, including a season-best of 17:22.39 at the North Port Invitational. But much like her freshman season in Illinois, when she won 10 straight races at one point -- including a IHSA Class 3A title -- David shouldn't have too much pressure in Florida. Outside the state, however, she'll get all she can handle. Hansen and Ping will more than likely give David a real battle upfront. David's 5K PR from 2019 is 17:11.60.
Carly McNatt, IMG Academy, FL: HS Sweepstakes Girls
At the Noth Port Invitational, McNatt told MileSplit after her third-place finish that she was ultimately working toward consistency and a few sub-18 performances in 2020. McNatt should have a legitimate shot to make that happen here, as the Casa Grande Course plays fair and fast. If she measures it right, she could have the best time of her season. McNatt's season-best is 18:37.18.
Carlee Hansen, Woods Cross, UT: HS Sweepstakes Girls
Hansen gave some important insight into the way she races this past week on MileSplit's podcast (top). More than anything, she said, she races to win. And that much has been evident in 2020, as the future University of North Carolina runner has won seven straight races to begin her fall. But her most recent 5K performance of 17:47.58 at the TwiKnight Invitational showed that she had what it would take to beat some elite competition. Here, she'll get an even greater test.
Judson Greer, Melissa, TX: HS Sweepstakes Boys
MileSplit's No. 2 ranked athlete will open up his season this weekend. And considering the crazy training he's been putting up (see above), there's no reason to think it won't be a highly productive outing. Greer finished fifth at Foot Locker Nationals a season ago and was 26th at Team XC Nationals. He ran a career best 5K of 14:34.66 at the UIL Class 4A Cross Country Championships.
Ben Shearer, The Woodlands Christian, TX: HS Sweepstakes Boys
The front pack of the high school boys sweepstakes race could have some Texas flair to it. Shearer was dominant in his debut this past weekend, winning the McNeil Invitational in 15:06.33. He ran career-best of 15:03.00 at the Denton Guyer Invitational last year. Like Greer, he also was a Team XC Nationals qualifier, though Shearer's performance there wasn't too memorable.
Luke Lambert, Wylie, TX, HS Sweepstakes Boys
One more Texan in this field is worthy of recognition. Lambert is undefeated thus far through his season, having won three straight races. His top performance came on the Denton HS course, where he ran 15:32.06. He finished eighth at the UIL Class 6A Cross Country Championships in 2019.
Newbury Park (CA) boys -- HS Sweepstakes Boys - Nicholas Goldstein, Colin Sahlman, Aaron Sahlman, Lex Young, Leo Young, Daniel Appleford, Christian Simone
Breakdown: It's pretty simple. The Panthers are the defending Team XC National champions and were preseason No. 1 picks. The squad will be debuting for the first time this season. Head coach Sean Brosnan has intimated that he believes this team is deeper than his 2019 program. So to say this race is anticipated is selling this team short. Oh, and Newbury Park also has a transfer from Great Oak.
Great Oak (CA) boys -- HS Sweepstakes Boys - Mark Cortes, Scott Kiehn, Nathan Lennox, Austin Montez, Anthony Nguyen, Quinn Saville, John Worthy
Bellarmine Prep College (CA) boys -- HS Sweepstakes Boys - Colin Peattie, Galen Topper, Nolan Topper
Breakdown: The club these three are competing with is a hybrid of other schools, so we have to temper the expectations just a bit. But all three will likely have strong performances, and enough so to evaluate just what kind of team Bellarmine may exhibit by December -- for perspective, the Bells were preseason No. 4 picks.
El Paso Eastwood (TX) boys -- HS Sweepstakes Boys -- Victor Anchondo, Sergio Leon Cuartas, Isaac Mendoza, Devon Paez, Nicholas Parra, Victor Parra, Aaron Perez, Aaron Perez
Breakdown: Team XC Nationals finishers in 2019, the Troopers will be looking to live up to that standard against some of the nation's top preseason teams. So far through 2020, El Paso Eastwood is undefeated.
Desert Vista (AZ) girls -- Lauren Ping, Katie Sigerud, Olivia Thatcher, Eve Boardman, Bailee Christofis, Brooklyn Hanania, Emily Littlefield
Breakdown: This group could be very special. And consider that the Thunder are still without teammate Grace Ping, who is carefully nursing an injury. Lauren Ping is the obvious front-runner in this group, having finished second in the sweepstakes race a year ago. But each member of this squad has potential -- Thatcher was 43rd in this race last year -- and each has progressed. Desert Vista finished fourth in this meet in 2019.
IMG Academy (FL) girls -- Mia Andreae, Tatum David, Marcela Guzman, Carly McNatt, Emilia Puskas, Eve Siff-scherr, Jais Ward
Breakdown: Undefeated through 2020, this will be IMG's best hurdle to cross so far. And on a runner-friendly course, that might elicit some season-best performances from the entire unit. David is the front-runner who will contend for a win, McNatt could finish in the top 10 and Ward and Co. will be searching to finishing somewhere in the top 25 to top 50.
Highland (AZ) girls, San Elizario (TX) boys