SALT LAKE CITY — This year's state cross country meet will have half a dozen teams fighting for more than the traditional prizes of individual honors or a team state title.
"Six teams are nationally ranked," said Skyline head coach Tom Porter, whose girls team is one of the six at No. 13. "Considering the size of our state … it's quite phenomenal."
Four of the six teams are girls squads — Skyline is ranked No. 12; Ogden is ranked No. 13; Timpview is ranked No. 31, and Mtn. View is ranked No. 46. ESPN.com ranks the top 50 boys and girls high school teams.
"Utah's never seen four girls teams ranked," Porter said. "And certainly never three from the same classification."
Porter said the competition not only makes the state meet more intriguing, it makes it more unpredictable.
All four of those ranked teams have depth and will make the 4A title chase one of the most exciting. All five classifications will compete this Wednesday. The races begin at Sugarhouse Park and end at Highland High starting with 1A girls at 11:30 a.m. and ending with 5A boys at 4 p.m.
Skyline's top three runners are within 2.5 seconds of each other in all races except one. Senior Jaqeuline Winterton holds the slightest of edges to teammates Jeni Townsend and Caroline Weiler, both sophomores.
"It really has been a luxury," Porter said of having three runners lead the team. "And they've been about as solid as it gets."
The talent of the fastest girls has helped improve the racing ability of all of Skyline's runners.
"It's really just stepped up the play of everybody," he said.
Skyline's success is no surprise as the Eagles returned all of last year's team.
"We knew we could control our own destiny," he said. "But then we moved to 4A, which is so tough this year."
Both Timpview and Mountain View have the ability to earn that girls title as well. Individual state champion Summer Harper, a junior from Orem, will attempt to defend her title. She had the fastest overall time of any female runner in last year's meet. East's Natalie Shields defeated Harper at this year's Murray Invitational.
On the boys side, it's Mountain View and Maple Mountain that are favored, but Herriman and Westlake have numbers and depth.
When it comes to cross country, not many would see Davis or defending 5A champion American Fork as underdogs.
Both schools have great tradition and recent success.
The Darts won the girls title last year behind junior Shae Davis's individual victory, while the Davis boys finished second. The Cavemen won the boys title and have dominated most races they've entered.
American Fork is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, while Davis is ranked No. 9. The two teams met in the first meet of the season and American Fork won that battle.
"They beat us pretty good," said Davis head coach Corbin Talley. "We're hoping that makes us the underdog, the dark horse."
Davis will rely on senior Brad Nye, Brayden Cromar, Preston Johnson and Alex Hedquist to lead the way.
American Fork returns last year's 5A boys' winner Clayton Young and second-place finisher Mack Morrison.
Their leadership has the Cavemen favored to win their third straight title.
"They've been great team captains," said head coach Timo Mostert. "They've trained very hard, and the boys were very, very consistent training over the summer. They built up a great base."
The boys run together year-round, which also helps them understand how to race together. Mostert said the runners don't feel a lot of pressure because the team lost five varsity runners to graduation.
"We still feel like the underdogs," said Mostert. "We haven't proven anything to anybody yet."
Davis' only loss was to American Fork, while the Cavemen won all of their invitational meets.
"We'll just run the best we can, but I think it will be a close, exciting race," he said.
On the girls' side, Davis is the favorite, led by Shae Davis. The girls, however, only return two runners from last year's team.
"We're a very young team," Talley said. He said Lehi will likely be the toughest competition for a team title.
"They are really young, but they won their region meet," said Talley. "And earlier in the year, we barely beat them."
He points out there are a number of talented individuals in the 5A race, including Alta freshman Whitney Paskins.
In 3A, the Ogden girls are heavy favorites to repeat — and could probably beat most teams in the state. Skyline and Ogden split in their two meetings, but luckily they won't have to fight each other for state title honors.
The Tigers return Avery Calton, Jamie Stokes and Sarah Feeny. Feeny, a sophmore, won the Murray Invitational just a few weeks ago.
Park City's Ben Saarel is having another great season as he beat Davis' Nye for the individual win at the Murray Invitational. He is defending his 3A title and should be a favorite on Wednesday.
Bear River won the boys title last year and the Bears return three of the state's top 12 runners — Spencer Stamps, Brackon Rawlinson and Tanner Anderson.
In 2A, Rowland Hall is again favored as the Winged Lions return four members of last year's state championship team — John and Andy Gilbert, Ryan Westermann and Chris Sundquist.
On the 2A girls side, it will be South Summit as the favorite, thanks to runners like Grace Shultz.
Individually, North Summit's Erica Birk will try to notch her third state titles She is a senior this season and running as well as ever. On the boys side, Ammon Blauer, of Parowan, will attempt to defend his title.
And in 1A, the heavy favorite again is St. Joseph. The Jayhawks won both the boys and girls titles last year and return four of their best boys this year.
The girls team only returns two of its top runners, Lynn Garcia and Emily Brandt.