Ben Shearer just stayed the course.
By mile two on Friday night, it was just him and Judson Greer, two Texans battling it out on a new course at The Links at Queen Creek in the final race at the Desert Twilight Invitational.
At that point, a pivotal intersection of a critical race -- the kind of moment where a big move could turn the tides entirely -- Shearer decided it was his time.
The Woodlands Christian (TX) senior blitzed Greer over the final mile to secure the bag and claim a benchmark win over the defending UIL Class 4A champion, winning in a US No. 3 time of 14:39.6.
Greer would follow in second in a US No. 5 effort of 14:45.9. His performance would ultimately be the second-fastest of the night overall.
The win for Shearer, a TAPPS state champion a year ago, marked his second straight in as many weeks. He had come off a victory at the McNeil Invitational on Sept. 26. And yet, in some ways no one could have expected this out of him, either.
His previous best was 15:03.00 from a fast Denton Guyer course in 2019.
In the team race, El Paso Eastwood capped off an impressive performance, winning the overall team title with 53 points.
Beyond those two, the course played fast and fair for Arizona runners. Five runners inside the top 10 were all from Arizona, with Deer Valley's Randy Espinoza leading the way in third-place overall in 15:09.8.
Fellow Texan Sergio Leon Cuartas, of El Paso Eastwood, was fifth in 15:15.6.
Top 10 Results:
1. Ben Shearer, The Woodlands Christian (TX), 14:39.6; 2. Judson Greer, Melissa (TX), 14:45.9; 3. Randy Espinoza, Deer Valley (AZ), 15:09.8; 4. Xander Black, Brophy College Prep (AZ), 15:12.7; 5. Sergio Leon Cuartas, El Paso Eastwood (TX), 15:15.6; 6. Dayton Carlson, Casteel (AZ), 15:22.2; 7. Roshan Tinoco-Miranda, Rio Rico (AZ), 15:23.2; 8. Alex Baca, Gunnison (CO), 15:25.09; 9. Luke Lambert, Wylie (TX), 15:25.3; 10. Kidus Begashaw, Lotus (CO), 15:28.6.
Photo Credit: John Hays
Girls Unattached Club Sweepstakes:
But after two miles, it was anyone's guess who would have the final kick needed to claim victory.
There was simply no separation.
And yet, while David-Smith and Gordon had previous championships and national qualifiers under their belts -- which gave them a perceived edge -- it was Van Valkenburg who always seemed a step ahead.
Ultimately, it was the junior from Eastlake (WA) High School that fought off a last-gasp effort from all three, winning in a career best time 17:15.5.
The performance on Friday immediately shined a bright light on Van Valkenburg, who finished 13th at the WIAA Class 4A Cross Country Championships in 2019. The win marked her first major milestone.
Issaquah's David-Smith, meanwhile, was just a tenth-of-a-second behind, crossing the line in 17:15.6, while Gordon, a Loudoun Valley junior, followed a second later in 17:16.6.
Sage Creek's Wallace was fourth in 17:17.2.
Meanwhile, it was a dominant performance from the preseason No. 17 ranked girls team, Great Oak (South Temecula Track Club), which saw all five of its scorers finish in the top 20 spots.
Great Oak senior Brianna Weidler was the top overall finisher for the Wolfpack in 10th, leading with a time of 18:33.7.
Top 10 Results:
1. Van Valkenburg, Eastlake (WA), 17:15.5; 2. David-Smith, Issaquah (WA), 17:15.6; 3. Gordon, Loudoun Valley (VA), 17:16.6; 4. Wallace, Sage Creek (CA), 17:17.2; 5. Samantha McDonnell, Newbury Park (CA), 17:43.0; 6. Hailey Golmon, Non-HS, 17:44.1; 7. Dalia Frias, Mira Costa (CA), 18:12.7; 8. Julia Kiesler, Simi Valley (CA), 18:31.1; 9. Siena Palicke, Yorba Linda (CA), 18:32.6; 10. Weidler, Great Oak (CA), 18:33.7.
High School Sweepstakes Girls:
It may have been a little too close for comfort for IMG Academy.
While sophomore Tatum David left Friday's sweepstakes race with a statement win, a new course record and a new career best of 16:41.5 for 5K, the Ascenders, ranked No. 18 on the most recent MileSplit50 team rankings, narrowly escaped impressive fights from nationally ranked Desert Vista (AZ) and one of Arizona's best teams, Highland (AZ) High School.
The Thunder had all five runners in before the Ascenders' fifth, and the determined Hawks scored three girls inside the top 20 and had all five through the first 41 places. Sophomore Kayla Case led Highland with an eighth-place finish in 18:10.7.
But it wasn't enough. With IMG's Jais Ward and Carly McNatt in seventh- and ninth-place, respectively, and the team's next two girls through the finish by the No. 21 and No. 51 positions, the numbers were simply in the Ascenders' favor.
The three teams were separated by just 26 points -- IMG (87), Desert Vista (98), Highland (113).
Individually, the battle for second was a story of its own. Desert Vista's Lauren Ping fought off a valiant last-ditch effort from Woods Cross' Carlee Hansen, finishing second overall in 16:57.2. Hansen was less than a second behind in 16:57.7.
The Utah runner made up 14 seconds in the final mile to close on Ping.
Ping was followed by teammate Katie Sigerud in fourth. The junior ran her third-straight sub-17:50 effort in 17:48.79. Flagstaff's Mia Hall was fifth in 17:53.5.
Top 10 Results:
1. David, IMG Academy (FL), 16:41.5; 2. Ping, Desert Vista (AZ), 16:57.2; 3. Hansen, Woods Cross (UT), 16:57.7; 4. Katie Sigerud, Desert Vista (AZ), 17:48.8; 5. Mia Hall, Flagstaff (AZ), 17:53.5; 6. Rujuta Sane, Hamilton (AZ), 17:55.3; 7. Jais Ward, IMG Academy (FL), 18:03.2; 8. Kayla Case, Highland (AZ), 18:1.7; 9. Carly McNatt, IMG Academy (FL), 18:12.1; 10. Lauren Walls-Portillo, El Paso Eastwood (TX), 18:14.7.
Photo Credit: John Hays
High School Sweepstakes Boys:
It's too early to tell whether the 2020 Newbury Park (CA) boys are better than the 2019 Panthers, a team which ended up winning their first Team XC National Championship a season ago.
If first races are any indication, don't expect anything less.
But regardless of national implications, the Panthers were absolutely incredible on Friday, unloading a variety of elite performances -- both individual and team-wide -- as they scorched The Links at Queen Creek course en route to a nearly perfect scoreline.
And it was junior Colin Sahlman, who was third man on the Newbury Park squad in 2019, that lived up to the billing on Friday, winning this race in the final mile as he posted a winning time of 14:53.7.
He needed every inch of those last steps, too, as he held off a hard-charging Jack Scherer, of Oshkosh North (WI) HIgh School.
The Tinman Junior Elite runner and recently-minted Northern Arizona University commit made an impression though the first mile, headlining a pack of five boys through in 4:40. He then took the lead, side-by-side with Lex Young through the second mile, before it was Sahlman who made the final kick.
Incredibly, Nico Young may not be the last superstart with that surname on Newbury Park.
Both of his younger brothers, Lex and Leo, shined on Friday, with the former netting his first sub-15 in 14:56.8, while the latter went 15:01.5. The duo finished third and fifth, respectively. Colin's brother, Aaron, was sixth overall in 15:10.4, while Nicholas Goldstein, the senior of the group, was ninth overall in 15:17.8.
Kamiakin junior Isaac Teeples, a Team XC Nationals finisher in 2019, was fourth overall in 15:01.5. The Washington native's season had been pushed back to 2021.
Bellarmine College Prep saw Nolan Topper finish seventh, his brother Galen finish eighth and senior teammate Collin Peattie follow in 20th.
Top 10 Results:
1. Sahlman, Newbury Park (CA), 14:53.7; 2. Scherer, Oshkosh North (WI), 14:54.5; 3. Lex Young, Newbury Park (CA), 14:56.8; 4. Teeples, Kamiakin (WA), 15:01.5; 5. Leo Young, Newbury Park (CA), 15:06.4; 6. Aaron Sahlman, Newbury Park (CA), 15:10.4; 7. Nolan Topper, Bellarmine College Prep (CA), 15:13.2; 8. Galen Topper, Bellarmine College Prep (CA), 15:14.9; 9. Nicholas Goldstein, Newbury Park (CA), 15:17.8; 10. Cormac Carew, Mira Costa (CA), 15:19.8.