Ironwood Ridge junior Melanie Zibrat is pleased to be running the same course twice in a month.


Melanie Zibrat doesn't recall how, exactly, she managed to strain her calf muscle; only that it happened somewhere along the 3.1-mile cross country sectional course at Marana High School last year.

"All I know is, at the end of the race, I was limping off," said Zibrat, now a junior and Ironwood Ridge's top female runner.

That sectional race, held last Oct. 30, was Zibrat's first experience with the course, which has been described by local runners as "difficult," having "lots of sand and rocks" and "not a fun course."

That's why almost every runner who will be attending this Saturday's Rattler Invitational (held on that same sectional course in Marana) is grateful for the opportunity.

The event, put on by former Mountain View coach Dennis Hansen, began as a humble affair in 2002, held on a Wednesday afternoon and featuring only a handful of teams.

The race has since been dedicated to Valerie McGregor, a former Mountain Lions runner who died in a car accident in 2006. It's grown exponentially ever since, moving to Saturdays in 2009 and this year, moving from Arthur Pack Park to Marana High School.

The move sparked the interest among cross country teams in Southern Arizona, attracting what Hansen is advertising as 25 teams, all hoping to gain valuable experience on the same difficult course that will be used for state-qualifying just three weeks later.

The Star asked four local runners about Saturday's race and its implications. Here's what they had to say:

Lucas Rischar

• School: Senior at Canyon del Oro

• Course experience: none

• Best finish this season: third, Sue Fletcher Invitational

Having never raced this course before, are you at a disadvantage?

A: "I'm looking at it as prep for (sectionals). Yeah, it might be a disadvantage for the Rattler, but it kind of allows everyone to scope out the course, which will be an advantage for the state-qualifying race."

Melanie Zibrat

• School: Junior at Ironwood Ridge

• Course experience: one race

• Best finish this season: sixth, Chandler Invitational

How do you feel about running essentially the same race twice in a month?

A: "I think that's actually a good thing. It will level the playing field. For example, I ran in the Chandler Invitational this season, then a couple weeks later I ran the Ojo Rojo, which was on the same exact course in Chandler. I improved my time a lot (from 20:34 to 19:55). I think knowing the course was a great way to get ready for the next meet."

Tyler Stamp

• School: Senior at Sabino

• Course experience: one race

• Best finishes this season: winner, Sue Fletcher Invitational; third at Desert Twilight Festival

How big of an advantage comes with having experience on this course?

A: "It makes me a lot more comfortable. There are a lot of twists and turns, but I have a better idea of where they are so I'll know when to start my kick and everything. Plus, I'm really happy that we get to see it now because the course will be fresh in our minds."

Melissa Williams

• School: Junior at Sahuarita

• Course experience: one race

• Best finish this season: seventh, Los Mezquites Invitational

What was your impression of the course last season?

A: "I did pretty bad last year; I didn't really like it. It just was not one of my favorites. Maybe it was the added pressure because it was sectionals. I'm pretty excited to get another shot at it."

If you go

• What: 10th annual Valerie McGregor Rattler Invitational

• Who: 25 teams from across the state

• When: Saturday, varsity girls race at 8:30 a.m., varsity boys race at 9

• Where: Marana High School