CHANDLER – Scottsdale Chaparral sophomore Ali Kallner likes start fast in races, keeping up with the leader Tempe Corona del Sol junior Nate Rodriguez likes to be at the head of the pack too, but prefers to save his burst.
Both notched personal record times to win individual titles at the 24th annual Ojo Rojo Invitational cross country meet Saturday at Tumbleweed Park. Both approaches are right.
“Usually I try and stick with whoever’s in front for as long as I can, and if I can stay up there for the whole race that’s the best-case scenario,” said Kallner, who took 19th at the Division I state meet as a freshman.
Kallner finished in 18:49.00, a full 46 seconds ahead of her state time in 2011. She edged Phoenix Desert Vista’s Dani Jones by one second, and Mesa Mountain View’s Huston Jones by two.
Dani Jones entered the race as the second-ranked girl in the state according to AZtrackXC.com, and Huston Jones was fifth. Both posted their best times of the year, improving from 18:56.00 and 19:10.47, respectively, but couldn’t nip Kallner in the final few feet.
“I didn’t really think I could stay with them,” Kallner said. “But with a mile left, I was still up there. And with 300 (yards) or so, it turned into a sprint. If you got it out, you got it.”
Rodriguez’s win was less in doubt. Entering the race as the third-ranked boy, he won by eight seconds, improving his top time of the year from 16:02.11 to 15:53.00.
The previous mark was set on the same course two weeks ago, but Rodriguez calls it one of his “worst races ever.”
“That one was by grade, and I think they had some new runners out there who took it out a little faster than they should have,” he said. “I went with them, and I definitely felt the pressure and felt the need to pass them.”
Rodgriguez completed his first mile in that race around the 4:50 mark. That was too fast, and he died towards the end, and had no one close enough behind him to push him.
This time, he pulled away from the pack about halfway through, gaining just enough of a cushion to still feel threatened.
“The silence started to grow a little bit more,” said Rodriguez, who took 21st at state a year ago with a time of 16:40.54). “I couldn’t hear the footsteps behind me.”
Rodriguez’s win propelled Corona to the team title with 100 points, edging Gilbert Highland by four. Ryan Normand (sixth in 16:23.00) and Jake Whitney (14th in 16:49) finished in the top 30 to medal for Corona.
Mountain View took the girls title with 41 points. Six of seven Mountain View runners – Huston Jones, Angela Ellsworth (sixth, 19:04.00), Erica Adams (seventh, 19:28.00), Madie Brooks (11th, 19:45.00), Billie Dytrt (16th, 19:54.00) and Hannah Nichols (25th, 20:08.00) – finished in the top 30 to medal.
Rodriguez has already been thinking about an improved performance at state, and has gotten looks from a couple colleges. He said he met with Arizona State coach Louie Quintana, who is a friend of his father’s.
Kallner was just gunning for another top 20 performance. The bar may have been raised.
“I think my coach is already saying I’ve got to go for top 10,” she said. “I’m sure that’ll change again, but whatever he wants I’ll try to get.”