Track and field

5 burning questions ahead of 2016 cross country season

Ready for one of the most exciting cross country seasons in recent memory? With state-level runners in both the boys and girls races, along with new faces and influential transfers, the fall’s three Desert Valley League races, in particular, should provide plenty of excitement down to the finish line in the last race.

But with so much turnover and additions brings plenty of questions that need to be answered. Here are the five biggest ones waiting to be filled in over the next two months.

Marissa Rodriguez is a senior cross country runner for Indio High School.

Marissa Rodriguez is a senior cross country runner for Indio High School.

How will Marisa Rodrigez transferring shakeup the DVL?

Rodriguez was only held short of a three-race DVL sweep a year ago due to an injury in the middle of the season that pulled her from the second race. She was in a class of her own in the DVL last fall, but in the middle of the school year, the junior transferred to Indio and ran track and field for the Rajahs. Rodriguez will finish off her high school career with Indio, but because of transfer regulations, will have to sit out the first DVL race on Wednesday.

The addition of Rodriguez, and consequential loss of her by the Blackhawks, could make the girls DVL race much closer than in year’s past, but not having her for one race will certainly hurt Indio’s chances at a title. La Quinta lost their top three runners, but with the addition of one of the top freshmen in the state, as well as the development of three solid sophomores, they’re still the team to beat. The exchange of Rodriguez between the two will likely only make things much closer.

Is Akemi Von Scherr the real deal?

Unknown to everyone except the cross country experts across the valley, Von Scherr is ready to wow fans at Wednesday’s first DVL meet of the season, already running Megan Huebner-level times as a freshman. She ran 16:54 in the Woodbridge Invitational over the weekend, with the 18th-best girl time and the current top freshman time in the state.

Running in league races without state-caliber talent to push her, don’t expect Von Scherr to run quite that fast in league meets, but she’s the odds-on favorite to sweep all three DVL races, with Rodriguez ready to give her a challenge. With a great race, the senior could give the freshman a great duel, though.

Luis Berrera is a senior cross country runner for Indio High School.

Luis Berrera is a senior cross country runner for Indio High School.

Can Luis Barrera pull off the three race sweep again?

Like Von Scherr, Barrera is in a class of his own in the DVL this year and could easily finish 30 second or more ahead of his competitors in each league meet. A year ago, he won the three league races by 16, 17 and two seconds, respectively, but most of the consistent top 10 finishers of a year ago graduated.

Barrera, instead, will have his sights set on breaking the 15-minute mark, inching closer to the state-level times of David Luna of a few years ago when Luna peaked around 14:30 and finished second in the state race.

Will the Indio boys repeat?

The Rajahs lost three of their top four runners from a year ago, but they’ve filled in replacements quite well with the best depth of a boys team in the valley. Indio had four boys run 16:04 or better last weekend at the Woodbridge Invitational and excelled last year at running in packs to prevent runners from other teams, like Xavier Prep, from stealing precious points.

The Saints, after winning the league title in 2014, proved a serious threat in all three league races in 2015, but lost four of their five best runners from their state meet team a year ago. Xavier Prep always tends to be better by the end of the year than most teams expect, but as it’s been for more than the last decade, it’s Indio’s title to win.

Will the La Quinta girls repeat?

This could be one of the best league races across any DVL sport this fall. La Quinta looks to have the runaway top runner in the valley, with two solid challengers from Indio in Naibe Ruelas and Rodriguez. Add in Palm Desert’s solid trio of Riley Arnson, Tia Maresca and Emma Estep, who all finished in the top 10 in each league race a year ago, and this race is hard to call right now.

Xavier Prep coach Aron Lyons and Indio coach Santiago Briones both gave La Quinta the nod as the possible favorites coming into the season, and La Quinta coach Amanda Pierson recognizes her girls are in for much more of a challenge than a year ago. Get your popcorn ready.

READ MORE:Local teams finish strong at Woodbridge Invite

READ MORE:Xavier Prep boys, girls remain only ranked cross country teams

Girls to watch

Marisa Rodriguez (Indio senior) – Rodriguez only ran in two DVL races a year ago, winning both of them handily, with a time of 17:51 in the final race. The senior qualified for the state race as a freshman and has fallen just short the past two years, but has the speed and experience to make it back.

Naibe Ruelas (Indio senior) – After competing against Rodriguez, she’ll have her pushing her as a teammate this year as the pair try to knock off La Quinta at the top of the DVL. Ruelas finished third in DVL races twice a year ago, with a best time of 18:55.

Riley Arnson (Palm Desert senior) – The most consistent non-La Quinta runner at the top of the DVL last year, Arnson finished in the top five in all three races, with a best time of 18:58 in the final race of the season.

Tia Maresca (Palm Desert senior) – Along with Arnson and teammate Emma Estep, the Aztecs could be a surprise force to shakeup the top of the DVL after finishing third a year ago. Maresca ran a 19:21 in the final DVL race a year ago.

Akemi Von Scherr (La Quinta freshman) – She’s the talk of the valley among all cross country coaches – a freshman who’s already broken 17 minutes with the top freshman time in the state. She comes in as the DVL favorite who hopes to help keep La Quinta at the top.

Nyah Chavez (Shadow Hills sophomore) – With a personal best of 18:44 this past weekend, the Knights sophomore is sure to challenge the best of the DVL in her team’s first season in the league.

Boys to watch

Luis Barrera (Indio senior) – Barrera won all three DVL races a year ago, and with his top teammates and Xavier Prep competitors graduated, he looks to sweep the league again with eyes set on breaking in the 14-minute range.

Andres Mejia (Indio junior) – In the shadows of some of his senior teammates a year ago, Mejia will try to bolster the speed of Barrera in hopes of getting Indio back to the state meet. He ran 16:02 in the final DVL race a year ago and finished at the Woodbridge Invite in 15:49.

Julian Dorantes-Lara (Indio sophomore) – After getting some solid experience as a freshman, including a time of 16:14 in the final DVL race a year ago, Dorantes-Lara will take on a much bigger role with the Rajahs losing several seniors from last year. The sophomore finished just behind Mejia at Woodbridge in 15:51.

Braulio Ramirez (Xavier Prep senior) – The Saints lost four of their top five runners from their team that finished fifth in the state at Division 5, Ramirez the only one returning. He posted his best DVL finish in last fall’s third race, taking 13th in 16:14 and ran 16:07 last weekend at the Grant Nunally Invite.

Isaiah Gonzalez (Shadow Hills junior) – The Knights star will face much tougher competition in the DVL than he’s been used to, but after running 15:53 at Woodbridge last weekend, he appears ready to be in the hunt.

Desert Valley League meets

Sept. 21 – at Xavier Prep

Oct. 12 – site TBA

Nov. 2 – site TBA

De Anza League meets

Sept. 29 – at Yucca Valley

Oct. 13 – at Coachella Valley

Sept. 29 – at Twentynine Palms

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