After last Wednesday's Region 6 cross country championship, East sophomore Ali Stephens was almost all smiles.
The sophomore was bittersweet about the outcome of the region championship. Stephens ran the fastest time of any girl except for one. That honor went to West freshman Emma Saarel.
"I know she's a really good runner," Stephens said. "It was a little intimidating."
Highland runner Clara Toronto took third place and gained a slight measure of revenge by beating several East runners.
"It's nice to beat them," Toronto said. "They beat me in everything."
East senior Lauren Spence finished in fourth place, just three seconds behind Toronto.
East's girls dominated the region championship meet with 26 points. They placed five runners in the top nine spots, earning an easy victory over second-place West (65 points). Under the direction of new East coach Mark Oftedal, the Leopards believe that this year's team was better mentally and physically.
"He's not the kind of coach that says, 'Just go and run,"' Stephens said. "He got us stronger running hills and improving our times. He motivated us as a team."
With the return of Stephens and fellow sophomore Alina Fong, East should be one of the front-runners next year. West's girls finished second overall, but this was the first time in a long time that the team didn't worry about qualifying for the state meet. Coach Dan Campbell thinks this might be the start of something big for the Panthers' cross country program.
"This is the best we've ever done," Campbell said. "We definitely have the beginnings of a tradition, I hope."
West returns region champions Saarel and John McMinn, along with a number of other talented runners. Saarel is a real catalyst for the program.
"That's the best part about this thing," Campbell said. "Emma pulls everyone along and they just run together, and that's what makes a great cross country team."
Cottonwood's boys outdueled crosstown rival Murray to win the boys region championship. The Colts' top five runners ran the race they wanted to.
"We talked about how we needed to group together," said Cottonwood senior Andrew Glenn.
After Glenn crossed the finish line in fifth place (16:44.7), he could only watch and hope as his teammates dashed across the finish line just seconds ahead of three Murray runners. Austin Perkins (17:09.1) and Alex Anderson (17:12.1) took 10th and 11th place, respectively. Then Travis Chambers (17:16.8) and Jase Lancaster (17:17.9) followed seconds later. The Colt stampede essentially sealed the region victory for Cottonwood.
The Highland boys made some big improvements this season. The down-and-out program took fourth place and got strong performances from Will Watkins (third) and Beau Hicken (sixth).
Based on the team's improvement, Highland coach Aaron Brown believes his boys team will be hoisting the region crown next season.
"We return our top nine boys and we're going to kick butt," Brown said. "We improved substantially. We've trained a lot better. It's going to translate into a 30-second improvement and we'll win this race."
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