Oct. 20, 2004 - With their season's heading into the home stretch, boys and girls cross country teams from the Northwest have begun their push toward the regional and state tournaments.

Teams from Canyon del Oro, Ironwood Ridge, Mountain View and Marana will wind down their seasons this week with the final tune-ups for the post-season scheduled to begin Oct. 30.

Every team in the 4A and 5A will qualify for the regional invite. The top four teams in the regionals will then advance to compete for the state title in Anthem, Ariz. The remaining top 20 individual finishers from teams that did not qualify for state will earn a spot as well.

Heading into the 4A regional tournament, Ironwood Ridge's boys team expected to challenge Nogales, Sunnyside and Catalina for tops in the Kino and Sonoran region. That was before the injury bug set out to decimate the Nighthawk's lineup.

"In the beginning of the year, I'd say we were favored to win regionals," said Ironwood Ridge head coach Gary Forrest. "But now with injuries, I'm not so sure."

Most notably absent from the Nighthawk's lineup is Paul Crawford whose season was cut short by an injury. Fortunately for Ironwood's young squad, their No. 1 runner Michael Anderson has remained relatively healthy. Anderson's speed and durability have landed him among the top runners in all of Southern Arizona and have made him an early favorite to win the region race barring any injuries, said Forrest.

Anderson alone won't be enough for Ironwood to compete among the region's best. Forrest is confident in the squad of Nick Beloch, Jeff Reeves, Phil Tenser and Jeff Boette that will follow Anderson's lead in the team's No. 2 through 5 positions respectively.

Following in the footsteps of its boys team is the Ironwood Ridge girls squad which is blazing a path of its own this season. Headed up by junior Megan Schulte and sophomore Kirsten Herrera, Ironwood has dominated opponents this season winning its first three meets. The Nighthawks will need to fend off a Rincon team looking to defend its 4A Sonoran Region title.

On the other end of the 4A spectrum is Marana, whose team is going through a rebuilding phase. Head coach Joe Brady, who has been with the program since its inception in 1972, believes in his squad's potential for next year.

"We could be a force to contend with next year," said Brady. "It could happen that quickly." As for 2004, his young squad is running on moral victories. With only eight runners in his arsenal, five boys and three girls, Brady has been relying on the legs of Brian Farnsworth and Melinda Marks. Both are expected to finish in the top 10 at regionals with Marks, a freshman, expected to compete among the region's best, said Brady.

Despite not being able to compete with a full squad, Marks has been a pleasant surprise for Brady. In her last meet on Oct. 13, the freshman took first over runners from Tucson High and Cholla with a time of 21:04.

In 5A region running, CDO's boys team, winners of five regional titles between 1990 and 1999, has its work cut out for itself. The Dorados have struggled at times this season and like Marana, expect to be a major competitor in a year or two when its young team matures. At the Rattler Invite, held Oct. 6 at Mountain View, CDO finished last among the seven regional teams. Of the 15 runners on head coach, Rick Glider's team, 14 are either freshmen or sophomores.

"When we go against other freshman and sophomores we do OK," said Glider. For the veteran coach of 13 years, Armando Dominguez has been the team's sparkplug. Following Dominquez is a lineup consisting of two sophomores and two freshmen.

For the depleted Dorado girls team, multi-sport athlete Jessie Ingraham has led the way. The cross country-basketball player is the only senior on the CDO starting five which includes Patty Montano (sophomore), Erica Carlson and Daniel Smerlinski (juniors) and Savannah Bickler, a freshman.

With Marana and CDO expected to send individual runners to their respective regional meets, Mountain View is looking to send a surprise to the rest of the 5A region. Dennis Hansen's team isn't just running against the rest of the 5A region, its' running against itself. The Mountain Lions girls team has had three girls, Wendy Pfau, Marina Peterson and Brooke Schmetter, "flip-flop" for the team's No.1 spot. The key to successfully taking on tough squads, Flowing Wells and Salpointe, will be to keep decreasing the times in between its runners, said Hansen. The coach estimates his girls are running with a 55-second gap between the team's No. 1 runner and its fifth place runner.

The boys squad of Mountain View is a balanced lineup of two seniors, two juniors and two freshmen. James Schow, who has battled a hip injury for the majority of the season, anchors the Mountain Lion boys team in the No. 1 spot. Add in the speed of Garrett Pfau and Sean Heart and Hansen believes Mountain View has a chance to land three runners into the state tournament.

If the Rattler Invite is any indication of how well Mountain View can run, Hansen's whole squad may earn a berth into the state tourney. At the Rattler, Mountain View topped both Salpointe and Sahuarita for a second place finish.

"We've come along nicely," said Hansen of his boys team. "They are holding their own."

Regional play for both 4A and 5A regions will take place Oct. 30. The 4A region race will be hosted by Marana High School, 12000 W. Emigh Road, while the 5A will take place at Mountain View High School, 3901 W. Linda Vista. The state invites will be held Nov. 6 at the Anthem Community Center, 41190 N. Freedom Way in Anthem, Ariz.

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