Shanna Sparks will set out to join some elite company today and so will the entire Carson High School girls cross country team when the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Championships are run in Boulder City.
Sparks, who placed second as a freshman at last year's state meet, will try to move up one spot and become Carson's first state cross country champion since 1991 in the 4A girls race on a flat 5,000-meter course at Veterans Memorial Park. At the same time, Carson's girls team will try to improve one spot on its second-place finish at the Northern 4A Regional meet last Thursday and bring home the school's first team title since 1992.
"I think it's going to be one of the closest races in years," Carson coach Jason Macy said of Carson's team chances. "I think the kids are all prepared. We've been training to run a flat course, so we'll be ready."
Green Valley is back to defend its 4A state title from last year, and the Gators come in as the No. 1 team from the South's Sunrise Region. Centennial won the Sunset Region while Reno edged Carson and South Tahoe in a Northern 4A race in which 11 points separated three teams.
"We've put it all down on paper and it looks close between all five teams," Macy said. "Looking at the splits, the top three (runners) on each team are pretty close, so I think it's going to come down to what the 4 and 5 runners do."
Green Valley easily won its region with 19 points. Emily Eskin, Jackie Favreau and Lindsay Harris of the Gators went 1-2-3. Eskin's time of 19:41 on a rainy day was the fastest of the day for the Southern girls last week. Eskin, a sophomore, placed third at state last year, 45 seconds behind Sparks.
Sparks ran 20:03 on a hill-lined 5-K course at Rancho San Rafael Park, but ran 18:17 earlier this season in Elko.
"Her goal is to break 18 minutes," Macy said. "And on a flatter course at the lower elevation, I think she has a shot."
If Sparks wins, she will become the first Carson girl to win a state gold medal since 1991, when Sarah Piccolo in 1991. Piccolo went on to become a nationally ranked collegiate runner at Colorado State. Other Carson girls who have won state titles include Kim Orlando (1990), Cindy Rockwood (1984 and '86) and Lauretta Miller (1982).
Green Valley's Abby Miller outran Sparks last year to become Nevada's first four-time state champion.
Carson has one entry in today's boys race, senior Daryl Nourse, who has a specific goal in mind today. Nourse placed second at the Northern 4A Regional last week in a time of 17:42.
"He's shooting for his p.r. (personal record)," Macy said of Nourse, whose best of 16:48 was run at McQueen earlier this season. "He wants to get into the low 16's, and I think that's possible because he's looked strong the last couple of weeks."