Six weeks after Durango High School senior cross-country runner Aidan Fitzgerald set an all-time school record at the Desert Twilight Invitational, he and his teammates returned to the same course – this time for the Nike Cross-Country Southwest Regional Championships on Saturday at the Grande Sports Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona.
Fitzgerald fared well again, as he finished 22nd overall in 15 minutes, 23.18 seconds. He was not the only one who ran well for the Durango Running Club team. The boys finished eighth overall out of 22 teams in the Boys Championship Division, and it was the best finish for the team in its history.
It was a vast improvement for Fitzgerald after he finished the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A boys state championship with a time of 17:45.4 three weeks ago. The team’s head coach Ken Flint thought Fitzgerald was back to his usual form.
“Aidan knew that he wanted to have a better race than his state meet, and we knew how good he was the last time we were down here and I thought we saw a bit more of that today. I thought he ran a great race and bounced back from his state performance,” Flint said. “He just missed the All-Region team by one spot, and it was fantastic for all of the kids.”
DRC had three of its seven runners set a personal best. Marcus Flint was 56th (15:43.66) and set a personal record by 10 seconds, Logan Moore was 88th (15:55.39) and broke the 16-minute mark for the first time in his career, and Luke Tichi also set a personal record and came in 125th (16:08.64). There was a total of 242 runners who competed in the race with athletes from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
Hogback XC, based out of Dakota Ridge, had runners from the CHSAA Class 5A state championship team and won the event with 107 points, while American Fork XC Club, based out of Utah, took second with 122 and automatically qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals race. Cole Sprout, who ran unattached but was the CHSAA Class 5A state champion out of Valor Christian, won the race in 14:39.1 seconds and is one of the heavyweights heading into the national meet.
Flint said it was the best competition the boys had seen all year.
“It was an unbelievable race because there were state champion teams and runners everywhere,” Flint said. “While the Desert Twilight meet was great due to the sheer number of teams, the overall quality of this field was really impressive up and down the list, and I think it gave these kids a lot to look out for, just to show them what the future can hold.”
Madeleine Burns, a junior at DHS who finished 13th at the girls state meet, competed unattached and finished 61st overall with a time of 18:26.4 in the Girls Championship Division.
“She’s been down here before and is just a strong competitor,” Flint said. “She’s raced a lot this year and is learning every time she races, at least mentally, what it’s going to take for her to improve. She didn’t quite see the jumps in her times that she wanted to this year, but I know we’re going to see it next year. Her commitment and work ethic are unmatched; she’s a determined young gal.”
The Vista Nation girls won the event with 88 points while Vail Valley Running Club was second with 135 points. Samantha Schadler out of Arizona won the race with a time of 17:06.2.
DHS senior Anna Smagacz, finished in 49th (19:57.5) in the Medium School Division.
“Anna said she always wanted to compete down here, and for her to break the 20-minute barrier in her final race, that was so great to see,” Flint said. “She always worked her tail off, and for her to get under 20 at her final race, after she ran 20:20 at this same course, it was great.”
Flint said he hopes the young squad will learn from this experience and look to build on it for next year.
“It was a tremendous event and we were so thankful to have competed,” Flint said. “Next year, we hope the boys will learn what it takes to be in the upper echelon of the region and we’re definitely looking to bring a full girls team. This was a great way to end the season, and I’m looking forward to next season already.”