High school cross-country: American Fork and Davis battle as 4A and 3A are deeper than ever

Published: Monday, Sept. 1 2014 5:00 p.m. MDT

American Fork varsity cross-country teammates Katie Cornell, left, Sophie Baird, Lexie Green, Maddie Bench and Sammy Hollingsworth celebrate their record-breaking win at the American Fork Grass Relays at American Fork High School on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

AMERICAN FORK — For the last five years the 5A cross-country title has been dominated by two teams. On the boys side, it’s been the American Fork Cavemen earning the title since 2009. This year is no exception as they’re ranked third in most national polls.

On the girls side, it’s been the Davis Darts that have dominated, even earning national honors, including this year’s No. 14 ranking in national polls.

This year will be more of the same as those two squads are still the teams to beat. Not only will they be contenders for state titles, but they should vie for regional and even national honors.

The question is how new talent will mesh with returning stars, and whether the pressure of defending past titles will help or hurt this year’s runners. For American Fork, the girls are trying to emulate a tradition their male counterparts have established.

“The girls have said, ‘We want to be more like the boys,’ ” said American Fork head coach Timo Mostert. “They’ve been willing to do work that they haven’t been willing to do in the past. … They have a goal that they want to place at regionals and go to nationals because the boys have done it five years in a row. They’re starting to understand that it takes a lot more hard work than they’ve ever put in before to get to that level.”

The girls team opened the season with a second-place finish to the team that’s dominated the 5A girls division for the last five years — Davis. The team followed that up by winning the grass relays that American Fork hosts in record-setting time.

“That’s a very good sign that their mental toughness and understanding of racing and pace is improving,” Mostert said. “But Davis is still No. 1 until we beat them. The girls will see Davis at the BYU Invitational and we’ll see how much today and next week helps us improve.” The Cavemen have a solid core of girls on that squad led by sophomore Sammy Hollingsworth, who had the fastest split in the relay and the best finish (seventh) of the Cavemen at Highland. Juniors Katie Cornell and Sophie Baird and seniors Lexi Green and Maddie Bench give the team depth and experience.

The boys team, which is ranked third in the nation, is in exactly the opposite position. Instead of chasing a rival, they’re trying to hold onto the state’s top spot, which they’ve owned decisively for the last five years. Three members of last year’s team that competed at the Nike Nationals return, and they’re led by Zac Jacklin, who earned the fastest split of the grass relays, Casey Clinger, McKay Johns and Jacob Chase.

Davis head coach Corbin Talley said his girls team knows it has to work hard to hold on to the title.

“We did beat (the American Fork) girls at Highland, but not by much,” Talley said. “Both teams are really strong. I think both teams are top 20 in the U.S. … We knew they’d be really tough this year as they returned six of their top seven, and they work really hard. We lost quite a few seniors.”

In fact, six of seven of the Darts’ state title team graduated. Luckily, their No. 1 runner, Aubrey Argyle, who finished second at state last year, is just a sophomore. She led the team in the Highland Invitational with a second-place finish — just five seconds behind the winner — Park City senior Alyssa Snyder. Miah Weaver, another sophomore, finished ninth, while Ally Geisler, also a sophomore, was 13th.

Talley said the tradition of winning actually helps incoming runners.

“Just the attitude of winning,” he said. “It just kind of spreads. There is an expectation. But we constantly remind them it’s not just going to happen. They buy into it and they know we’ve got to work for it.”