Endurance and leg speed will obviously be key factors Thursday when the Northern 4A Regional Cross Country Championships are staged in Reno.
Douglas High School coach Ellen Lucas believes intelligence will also go a long way toward determining who is successful during the Regional meet on a hill-lined Rancho San Rafael Park course. The boys race is scheduled to go off at 3:30 p.m., followed by the girls race at 4.
"It's a tough course, strategically, the way it's set up with that hill. The hill's not that steep, but it takes a lot out of you, so it takes a smart runner to do well on that course," Lucas said.
And if all goes according to plan, all three Carson Country teams - Carson, Douglas and Galena - could be in the running for team trips to the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Championships next week. The top three teams advance past regionals.
The Carson girls, led by sophomore phenom Shanna Sparks, will try to win the school's first conference girls team championship since running up a string of five straight between 1989 and '93. To do so, the Senators will have to fend off challenges from perennial rivals South Tahoe and Reno.
"The girls have a real shot at winning," Carson coach Jason Macy said. "We definitely have the talent, we just have to make sure we're real focused because South Tahoe beat us at our own invitational. We've had various girls sick at times all year, but it looks like we're running at full strength right now."
Sparks is a good bet to repeat her Northern 4A individual gold medal performance of a year ago. She went on to place second at the state meet and has been unbeaten in Nevada all season - her only losses coming at Stanford and in North Carolina.
The Senators are obviously more than one runner. Sara Shaw has emerged as a top-five threat at major conference meets and Megan Zahnter has moved up toward the front of the pack as well.
"What we need to have is three runners break into the top 10, so Sara and Megan are keys for us," Macy said. "Both were J.V. runners last year who decided they wanted to run varsity this year, they put in the over the summer and all the work paid off because they've really run well for us."
Senior Amy Martin, along with freshmen Lindsay Dorio, Cassia Roth and Janine Stone round out Carson's seven-runner lineup.
Reno looks like the team to beat on the boys side, although defending Northern 4A and state champion South Tahoe has been known as an end-of-the-season threat going back as far as the early 1970s. The third and final team ticket to state figures to be a toss-up between Carson, Douglas and Galena.
"The boys race is going to be tough," Macy said. "Reno and Tahoe are obviously the ones to beat. We have the talent to get that third spot, but the last two or three weeks we've seen a push by Douglas and Galena."
The race between Carson and Galena features two of the Northern 4A's top individuals, Daryl Nourse of Carson and Chad Sanada of Galena. Both are seniors.
Junior Robby Miller leads a Douglas pack that also includes Mike Hackler, Darren Muren, Collin Muren, Josh Daddabbo, Mike Deck and Andrew Hines.
"If the kids stay in control and maintain their strength, then I'd say they'll be in the thick of it," Lucas said. "Reno and South Tahoe look pretty solid out front, but it could come down to Carson, Galena and ourselves battling for that third spot."
Even without Miller at the recent Elko Invitational, the Tigers finished third as a team thanks to the close-knit grouping of Hackler (17:23 for 5,000 meters), Darren Muren (17:36), Collin Muren (17:51) and Daddabbo (17:53).
Carson's lineup also includes freshman Jeffrey Martin, sophomores Andrew Pederson and Justin Barber, senior Jeff Young plus juniors Brian Rebholtz and Jose Banuelos. Barber is better known for his strength in the swimming pool, where he emerged as a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Trials this year.