The leaves are not the only things falling this time of the year.
Continuing to drop times and keep an aggressive pace to the season, the Flagstaff, Coconino, Northland Prep and Basis Flagstaff cross country teams have lately taken their talent away from their home course of Buffalo Park to spread their success around the state.
Maya Smith, Northland Prep's No. 1 on the girls side since her freshman year, again won the Desert Twilight Invitational Friday, helping her team place second in the the 5,000-meter championship event ahead of the Coconino Panthers. While Smith's ability to outpace the field comes as no surprise -- she's on the path to winning a fourth consecutive Division IV individual state title -- Spartans newcomer Keelah Barger made another eyebrow-raising statement with her second-place finish at Twilight in 18:32.
"This was only Keelah's second 5K race in high school, and it is thrilling to see her rise to the competition and run so fast," said Spartans coach Missy Acker, whose girls squad is on pace to repeat as state champions. "She is an amazing competitor and loves the challenge of pushing herself to new performances."
Smith is in another gear this season, taking big chunks of time off her previous performances.
"Maya bettered her time from the year before by 45 seconds running a 17:37, making it look easy," Acker said.
Coconino earned bronze at Twilight with a team score of 205 points, with Northland Prep recording 195 for the victory.
Coming off a second-place finish in 20:17.24 at the Shane Morris Invitational's 5,000m on Sept. 23, Woodlyn Smith posted a PR time of 18:48 to lead the Panthers with a fifth-place finish. Coconino's Kaelynn Ashley hit a PR at 20:06 for to place 37th, with teammate Hope Saxton PRing with a 20:16 for a 44th-place finish.
Ashley finished the Shane Morris race fifth with a 21:13.82, and Saxton went sixth in 21:16.59.
While the Flagstaff Eagles didn't throw their top runners into the mix at the Shane Morris race, they got two top-10 performances by Max Davis and Peyton Sventek, who placed seventh and ninth respectively.
The rest of Acker's girls squad is also picking up the pace.
"Nora Blodgett, Andrea Lopez, and Kate Bailey also got new personal records on this course, which made for a great team finish in this championship race," Acker said of Desert Twilight.
The Coconino boys and the Northland Prep boys competed in the Desert Twilight small schools run, with both squads collecting PRs. Led by Nalzheii Lonetree's fifth-place finish in 16:25.2, a PR, the Spartans won the division by putting four runners in the top 15 for a score of 57 points. Coconino was the runner-up with 183 points, as Sam Lasley's 16:52.7 time and 15th-place finish set the pace for the Panthers.
"It is so terrific to see the boys run in a tight pack," Acker said. "We have nicknamed it the 'blue wave' and we encourage all the team members to catch that wave and stay as close as possible."
The Spartans boys added to the PR performances, with Brandon Bounds placing eighth, Nicholas Hall in ninth, Hayden Anderson 14th and Micah Stanton 34th.
Taylor Taliman went 24th for the Panthers, with Alex Petersen just behind him to make the top 25. Both set PRs.
The Basis Flagstaff boys took 25th in the boys small school race, with Tucker Grams being the lone runner to crack the top-100 for a 47th-place finish for the Yeti. On the girls side for the Yeti, Megan Holm and Rebecca Sturm ran in the girls small school varsity race and placed in the top 100.
At Shane Morris, Lasley finished 10th, with teammate Taylor Taliman taking 12th and Alex Petersen 15th for the Panthers.
TUBA CITY 3, NORTHLAND PREP 1
Falling to the higher-conference school, the 2A No. 15 Northland Prep Spartans dropped a freedom match to the 3A No. 8 Tuba City Warriors Wednesday night.
One night after sweeping region foe Mingus Mountain, Northland Prep (7-4) fell to Tuba City (8-2) as the Warriors rattled off their fourth straight win with just two sets dropped in the process.
Set to play their third match of the week, the Spartans will take on constant foe No. 10 Sedona Red Rock at home Friday. The Scorpions sit at 9-1 this season with a perfect 3-0 record in the Central Region.