SALT LAKE CITY — Over the years, Utah has developed into one of the strongest states in the country when it comes to cross-country. According to Davis head coach Corbin Talley, the level of competition in Utah comes down to the competitiveness between the teams and a tradition of excellence.
“Cross-country has traditionally been a sport in Utah that gets a lot of really good athletes,” Talley said.
Currently, Utah has four teams in both the boys and girls national top 25 cross-country teams on Milesplit.com
Wednesday at Sugarhouse Park, that high level of competition will be on full display as each classification will have the opportunity to battle it out for their respective state championships.
Led by seniors Casey Clinger, McKay Johns and Patrick Parker, American Fork is ready to take back the state title in 5A after winning in 2014 but losing to Davis and Lehi in 2015.
“Those three are probably the favorites to go one through three,” Talley said. “It will be really tough to beat a team with three guys as good as they are, but its not impossible.”
Clinger was a big part of the Cavemen taking the title in 2014 as he finished second behind one of his teammates and then in 2015, he improved his three-mile time by 20 seconds to take first individually, though his team took second to Davis.
This year, Clinger has a good shot at repeating after an impressive performance in region meets, especially the Region 4 meet in which he blew away the field with a three-mile time of 14:33.
Talon Hull of Weber took second in the 2015 state meet and could very well compete once again for the individual title while Josh Peters and Camren Todd lead a solid Davis team that should be in the mix to win after taking the title last year.
“Our goal is to finish with a close group and give it a shot,” Talley said.
Similarly, on the girls’ side of things, senior Sara Musselman leads a strong, veteran crew for American Fork after a notable 17:41 finish in the three-mile at the Region 4 meet.
A few other runners who finished higher than Musselman and her teammates in 2015’s state meet return as well. Weber’s McKenna Lee, Bingham’s Whitney Rich and Davis’ Aubrey Argyle took second, third and fourth last year, respectively, and will have a close competition for the top spot this year.
However, the American Fork girls are still the favorites to take their third straight state title as Lexi Wright, Cami Squires and Sammy Hollingsworth return, who respectivley finished at nine, 10 and 11 in 2015.
In 4A, the top three runners from 2015 have since graduated, leaving the door wide open for another runner to step in and take the top spot. Joe Benson of Timpanogos took fourth in 2015 and is poised to make a run for individual honors after winning the Region 7 meet with a time of 14:46. Ogden’s Garrett Barton and Olympus’ Max Spence, who took fifth and sixth in state last year, respectively, will also be competitive for the state title.
Like in the individual portion, it is possible that there could be a changing of the guard in the team competition as two-time defending champion Timpanogos only returns two runners from last year’s squad while Ogden, which took second place last year, returns five runners, including Barton and fellow seniors Travis Feeny and Max Jones.
Olympus could surprise some people and finish well in the state meet after its runners took seven of the top eight spots in the Region 6 meet, led by Jima Rout, who took the region title.
Similarly, Timpanogos may experience some trouble in retaining the title in the girls meet as it lost two seniors from 2015’s team while second-place finisher Mountain View returns all seven runners from last year. Also, third-place finisher Skyline only lost one senior from last year, whose time was not even used.
Sophomore Mimi Miyazawa, who took third in last year’s meet, leads Mountain View going into state, while Camille Winterton, a junior, took sixth last year for Skyline and will help her team in its hopes for a title.
Kate Hunter of Provo, however, is the clear favorite after blowing away the field to take state her junior year, beating the next closest runner by more than 15 seconds. The senior hopes to do the same this year.
After last year’s extremely close finish in both the individual competition and the team competition, the 3A girls meet should once again provide some excitement in 2016.
In 2015, the top four runners finished within 2.6 seconds of each other, with Union’s Kennedy Powell taking first. Following her came Stansbury’s Zoe Hales, Desert Hills’ Bailey Brinkerhoff and Madison Carr of Park City.
Anything could happen this year as all four return to compete along with fifth-place finisher Lily Poulton of Desert Hills and Tooele’s Makayla Komer. The sophomore from Tooele finished in 12th place at state as a freshman but has been having a strong year, including taking the Region 10 title with a three-mile time of 17:34.
Likewise, the team competition was extremely close in 2015, with Stansbury beating Pine View by only one point to take the state title. Pine View is in better position to win this go-round as it returns six of its seven runners from last year, while Stansbury only returns two other runners besides Hales.
After taking third and fifth in 2015, respectively, Jaiden Melendez and Spencer Ford will be battling it out for individual honors in the boys meet. The good news for them is that they both will be helping Region 9 champion Desert Hills in its campaign to take its fourth straight team title.
“We’re going for our fourth straight title, which is exciting,” Desert Hills head coach Logan Fielding said.
Junior Bryson King will also be a key contributor along with seniors Melendez and Ford, but Desert Hills will need to see contributions from some of its newer runners to get past region foe Pine View, which has four runners back from 2015’s state team and has proven to be a solid team throughout 2016.
The Panthers have been close to the Thunder all year and even beat the Thunder in an early meet but since then, it has been all Desert Hills.
“They have one the best teams they’ve had in recent years,” Fielding said of the Panthers. “We see them often, so it keeps us working and keeps us hungry.”
Also fighting for the individual title will be newcomers Caleb and Chresten Armstrong, who recently moved from Pocatello, Idaho, to Hurricane, where they now race for the Tigers. Each could be a threat to take the individual state title, especially Caleb, who took individual honors in 4A in Idaho last year as a freshman.
Jace Richins returns for North Summit to defend his individual title in 2A while his team will be vying to top last year’s third-place finish. The two teams that beat out North Summit in 2015, Millard and Emery, return most of their teams in 2016 and will provide some tough competition once again.
Millard, which took first in 2015, returns four seniors, including last year’s eighth-place finisher Parker Stevens, and a freshman from last year’s squad. Meanwhile, Emery’s top four finishers from 2015 included two freshmen and two sophomores, who are all back.
On the girls side, North Summit has a solid chance to repeat as state champions with the return of Sadie Sargent and Maggie Zwahlen who, in 2015, took second and third in state.
The two will be vying for the individual title while teammates Madeline Birk, Kate Schroeder, Allie Boyer and Sadie Boyer will be there to help the team in its quest to win its second straight title.
Last year’s runner-up in state, Millard, will once again be a challenge for North Summit to get past as it returns most of its runners, including Maria Josse, who finished in fifth place in the 2015 state championship.
In 1A, Panguitch has built a solid cross-country program in the last five years with a slew of runner-up finishes and a break-through year in 2015 to take the state title. The Bobcats hope to reproduce that outcome this year and have a good opportunity to do so with their top two runners from last year returning in Jonah Schoppe and Trenton Stowe.
The two led an experienced Panguitch team to the state championship in 2015 with Schoppe finishing in third place and Stowe in fourth. The two will also be the favorites to compete for the individual title as all of last year’s top 10 runners from state graduated except for Schoppe, Stowe and West Ridge Academy’s Chris Melling, who took ninth place.
Panguitch has a good chance to take the girls title was well with a trio of sophomores that all finished in the top 16 in state last year. Brittney Henrie led the way, followed by Kapri Orton and Corryn Anderson.
Defending champion Parowan, meanwhile, has a more-experienced squad with seniors Emmy Evans and Taylor Robb along with three juniors, all of who were on last year’s state team.
Meghann Clare of Saint Joseph and Bailey Wall of Tintic will be among those competing for the individual title after taking second and third in state in 2015, respectively. Sophomore Alicia Dixon of Whitehorse also has a chance to break through and take state after taking fourth last year.