The Durango High School cross-country team is gearing up for its last race of the season this weekend, as the Demons will travel to Casa Grande, Arizona, for the Nike Cross Regionals Southwest (NXR) on Saturday.
The Demons qualified for the championship races based on their respective seasons, in which the boys team took second at the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A Cross-County Championships, while the girls finished in fourth. This is not the first Nike meet the Demons have attended, as both teams had strong performances at the Desert Twilight Festival held at the same course in September.
Led by seniors Luke Tichi and Madeleine Burns, DHS will look to qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals event Dec. 7 in Portland, Oregon.
DHS assistant coach David McMillan believes both Burns and Tichi have a shot.
“Madeleine and Luke have a real shot at going to the big dance,” McMillan said. “This team has been on the ascendant since regionals, and have been getting better and better. A month after the state meet, the kids who maybe didn’t run well at state are hungry as ever. I want them to enjoy the experience and to race unbound. There’s no pressure, and I want them to run wih joy. I’m excited to be a part of that energy again.”
McMillan’s goal is for the Demons to finish in the top half of the team results in the 28-team race.
Burns, who has competed in the race every year, believes that with a month off between the state meet and NXR, she has been able to get better training.
“I’m definitely excited, and I think everything is looking good,” Burns said. “The weather should be cooler than it was last year, and I’ve definitely gotten in some really good training since state. We had a whole month off, so it was nice to have a bit more time to get the mileage back up, and I’ve been tapering down this week to get ready for the race.”
Burns had a strong finish at state, as she took fourth place in 18 minutes, 33.6 seconds. She finished eighth at Desert Twilight, where the elevation is at a much lower 1,398 feet, and ran 17:22.71. She believes she will have to cut down her time from September in order to qualify.
“It’s definitely the goal to qualify,” Burns said. “It’s the same course as Desert Twilight, and having run pretty close to what it takes, I was a few seconds behind at Desert Twilight. I think I’m in much better shape and am excited to race some of the best girls from Colorado, as well as Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada.”
Also competing for the Demons will be Willow Lott, Kiara Hamlin and Tea Forrest. The starting gun will go off at 11:27 a.m. Saturday at Grande Sports Academy.
On the boys side, Durango will look to have a strong finish to its season, and Tichi will look to be near the front of the pack. Since his state meet, he has also enjoyed getting in extra mileage.
Tichi believes it will take a run close to the 15-minute mark to make it to Portland. At the state meet, he ran 15:53 and led the Demons to a second-place finish. At Desert Twilight in September, he ran 15:22 and took 22nd. He hopes to be a contender and knows it will take another strong effort.
“This race has been in the back of my mind since the beginning of the summer,” Tichi said. “I have progressed pretty well, and as the days have been getting closer, I’ve been getting really excited for it. I’m going to give it my best shot and see what happens. I know it will take a time like Aidan Fitzgerald at Desert Twilight last year when he ran 15:05. I know there’s a lot of really good competition, but I am going to try and stay with the lead pack and hopefully will be in it at the end of the race.”
It will be Tichi’s second NXR experience alongside junior Paul Knight, who ran 15:41 at Desert Twilight.
“For me, it’s one last chance for all of us to run together as a team,” Tichi said. “We know we’ll be competing against the best 3A, 4A and 5A teams in Colorado, as well as the best from across the Southwest. With a race as big as this, I think there were a lot of things that we have learned from last year, and the better time you have, the better chance we have of qualifying for nationals. With the course conditions and how big this meet is, I think our biggest thing is to stay the course and run our race.”
Tichi will be joined by fellow Demons Knight, Land Lambert, Aiden Quayle, Jack Whistler and Michael Benner. DHS will race at 10:47 a.m.
“I’m just really excited to give it a shot, and hopefully I can extend my season for two more weeks,” Tichi said.