Richard Obert
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 18, 2008 05:45 PM

She has two individual state track championships, a 20th-place finish at a national cross-country meet, a 4.0 grade-point average, and she's just now starting her sophomore track season.

Jessica Tonn can't get much better, but she continues to strive to.

If Phoenix Xavier Prep needed a role model, she would be it. She's got the grades, the charisma, the smile, the always-positive outlook.

And she can run.

Tonn is back for more this track and field season after bursting onto the Arizona high school scene last year as a freshman when she won the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the Class 5A Division I championships.

She stole the show from Xavier's much-heralded senior, middle-distance runner Natalie Johnson, who is now at Notre Dame.

I look at it more for motivation, Tonn said of last year's state titles in the distances. It makes me focused more on training and working harder in practice. It's a lot of motivation.

Tonn expected to win state last year, but she admitted being surprised she crossed the finish line first, especially with Glendale Mountain Ridge twins Nadia and Nastia Bishton in the fields.

Last cross-country season, at the state championships, the Bishton sisters finished ahead of third-place Tonn.

That serves as motivation for track season, as well.

It also helps that there is another up-and-coming freshman ready to leave her mark this track season. Tonn's Xavier teammate, Kristina Vanderhout finished fourth at the state cross country championships in the fall.

She has an exceptionally promising future, said Jeff Messer, who works with the Xavier distance runners.

Tonn can't go to meets this season without wearing the proverbial target. She welcomes it.

But she also puts this sudden success in perspective.

I might be really good in Arizona, but once I get out of the state, all over the nation, there are some amazing runners, Tonn said.

She found that out in December when she ran in the Foot Locker national cross country meet in San Diego. She improved on her freshman season time by 30 seconds in what she called horrible conditions.

Still, she was just the 20th fastest.

She's a exceptionally focused young lady, who wants to be accomplished in the sport, Messer said of Tonn. She's very competitive and very humble. She's very much driven.

Playing in competitive soccer since she was 6, Tonn turned to distance running in the seventh grade and made that her year-round passion.

I kind of lost the love for soccer, she said. I loved running. It was a personal sport, just running for yourself. Sometimes, I like to rely on myself.