SALT LAKE CITY — The dog days of summer are dwindling and fall colors are on the horizon, which means one thing: It's time for cross country.
And if this year is like any of its recent predecessors, American Fork will set the pace for the rest of the state.
While American Fork returns only a few runners from last year's state title-winning boys team, those who are coming back are really good. Clayton Young and Mack Morrison — who finished 1-2 last year — will headline another deep Cavemen squad that will be in contention for its third straight state title.
"American Fork is always really strong," Davis coach Corbin Talley said. "We hope to have a shot at them by the time we get to the state meet, but they're definitely a national-class team. They have good kids and good coaching."
Brad Nye and Preston Johnson will lead Davis, which finished second in 2010, in pursuit of American Fork.
Dallin Taylor from Hunter and Haven Shelton from Pleasant Grove finished in the top 10 at the state meet last season. Both will be seniors and should be in contention once again.
On the girls' side Davis' Shea Martinez won the individual title as a sophomore last season, helping the Darts to the girls team title. The expectations will be the same this year.
"If we could repeat that would be quite an accomplishment, I think," Talley said. "We lost five of our top seven girls, but Shea will be really good for us. We have a lot of work to do. Alta's girls are really the team to beat."
The Hawks are led by Sierra Knapp, Carolyn Webber, Sierra Murri, who each return after finishing in the top 25 in 2010.
Laura Young, one of the top individual runners, and Emily Rich headline a deep Bingham team.
Another girl to keep an eye on is Jordan's Danielle Menlove, who won the individual title as a freshman then didn't compete the past two years because of an illness.
Orem's Summer Harper ran away from the field in the state meet as a sophomore last year — in fact, her time of 18:00.40 was the fastest of any girl in any classification by more than 16 seconds. She'll be the overwhelming favorite to win the individual title again in 2011.
From a team standpoint, though, Mountain View, Mountain Crest and Skyline boast depth and experience. Last year's team winner, Ogden, will now compete in 3A after the statewide realignment.
Skyline's Caroline Weiler placed second in 5A as a freshman last year, while teammate Jacqueline Winterton finished fourth overall. Meanwhile, Ashleigh Warner and Tenill Sutton will pace the Mountain View girls team.
Mountain View and Maple Mountain are two teams to watch on the boys side.
Bear River captured the 3A boys crown last year, and with three top-12 runners returning (Brackon Rawlinson, Tanner Anderson and Spencer Stamps), the Bears will once again be in the thick of things.
Park City's Ben Saarel — one of the state's top runners — took the individual title last year by more than 30 seconds. He's running as a junior this season.
Canyon View took second place last year, but only one runner out of four who finished in the top 15 will return. Senior Brian Covington placed sixth last year.
The girls' team division is looking like a two-horse race between Ogden and Park City.
"I would definitely say that the Ogden girls are the best team in the state, regardless of classification," Talley said. "They're deep and really fast."
Avery Calton, Jamie Stokes and Sarah Feeny, who propelled Ogden to the 4A team title last year, will return in 2010. A new classification doesn't diminish their chance to repeat.
Park City senior Rebecca Cunningham will help anchor the Miners, while Alisse Walker, Devon Dunmire, and Annie Orr will be right along with her.
Desert Hills' Darian Sharp won the 3A individual title last year, though she will be an underdog to the runners from Ogden in 2011. Aimee Bryson from Cedar took third place last year as a freshman.
In 2A, both individual winners (Parowan's Ammon Blauer and North Summit's Erica Birk) will be back to defend their titles.
Birk will try to make it three titles in three years in this, her senior season. She won by more than a minute in 2010.
Rowland Hall won the boys division last year by a healthy margin, and with all four top 15 finishers — John and Andy Gilbert, Ryan Westermann and Chris Sundquist — returning, it'll be favored once again.
Led by Grace Shultz, South Summit will be one of 2A's top girls teams this season.
St. Joseph swept the boys and girls team titles last year with squads full of underclassmen, which bodes well for the Jayhawks this year.
Sam Weil, Connor Letendre, Charles Joseph and Jeffrey DeGrauw each placed in the top 30 last season in the boys division, while Lyna Garcia and Emily Brandt will be back to head the girls team, which lost four top-15 finishers to graduation.
Rich's Vance Weston was the top finisher in the boys division as a freshman, while fellow first-timer Colby Spencer, from Valley, placed third.
Other girls to watch include Daisy Tuwei from Wasatch Academy, Katie Nielson from Dugway and Emma Peart from Rich.
The 2011 state championship meets will take place on October 19 at Sugarhouse Park.