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Thu, June 27

Wherley Invite turns 35 Saturday

PRESCOTT ­ The Ray Wherley Invitational celebrates its 35th year Saturday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, marking a major milestone for the highly competitive cross country meet.

Once known as the Prescott Invitational and later changed to its current name in honor of Wherley, a former Prescott High School teacher and track coach, the meet has been strongly plugging along since 1971.

This year invitational organizer Rich Geske said that a smaller group of 25 varsity teams from high schools across Arizona plan to race on the challenging ERAU course.

Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain, Chino Valley, Sedona Red Rock and Cottonwood Mingus Union will compete from this county. Page, Mesa Mountain View, Mesa Red Mountain and Hopi are in the field as well and are considered among the best in the 2006 invite. Last year, Page won for the second straight time on the boys' side while Phoenix Xavier Prep captured first for the girls.

The initial race of the day at Embry-Riddle starts at 9:45 a.m. The varsity boys' and girls' races at 10:30 a.m.

"This is one of the more coveted invitationals," Geske said. "ŠWith the growth at Embry-Riddle, it's getting harder for them to host this, but we anticipate that this meet will continue on for years to come."

On Saturday, the boys will run the 3.2-mile long course, while the girls take to the shorter 2.75-mile course. Geske said that Prescott boys' cross country coach Dan Pemble has been directly involved in the current layout and distance of the ERAU course, which has undergone a facelift in each of the past three years.

"It's a very competitive meet," Geske said. "Local teams have done pretty good here, though."

The course's elevation and degree of difficulty combine to make for a rather strenuous, albeit exciting run.

"There's a lot of different terrain, running up through rock and around fences," Geske said. "It has more of a European style to it."

Geske added that the invitational has maintained its longevity through the years because of its unique format. The timed individual finishes of all seven runners on each team are tabulated and combined for a final cumulative score.

In contrast, most early-season meets of this size typically compile times from a club's top-five runners only.

Therefore, at this weekend's invite team depth and strength carries more weight in the final scoring analysis.

"It's a different kind of format," Geske said. "A team's No. 1 runner is just as important as its No. 7 runner."

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com

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