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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Runners compete in the 5A boys race at the UHSAA State Cross Country Championship in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Seniors dominated the high school cross country landscape a year ago. Their departure, however, has left the door wide open for fresh faces to put their stamp on one of the most competitive sports in Utah.

Eight of the 10 individuals state champions at last year’s state meet were seniors, including all five boys state champs.

A month into this year’s high school cross country season many new contenders have emerged, and not just individuals. It’s a realignment year in the UHSAA, with several contenders moving up and down classifications. The UHSAA also added a sixth classification, which opens the door for two more team and individual titles later this October when the teams converge at Sugarhouse Park for the state meet.

Here’s a brief look at all six classifications as the season starts to ramp up:

Class 6A

A year ago in the state’s largest classification, American Fork swept the boys and girls state titles, with Lone Peak and Davis flip-flopping second- and third-place finishes.

The same three programs figure to be front-runners again this year, but the order isn’t quite so predictable. American Fork’s boys were led by three senior BYU commits last season, but their departure has created an obvious void.

It’s a void that Lone Peak and Davis hope to take advantage of, but Lone Peak coach Ryan Bybee said that’s easier said than done.

“Timo (Mostert) always does a good job at American Fork of backfilling even when his seniors graduate. They’ve got a really strong team this year, I’m sure the favorite in 6A. Davis is always really strong too, really good programs and we always seem to be nipping at their coattails, and never quite getting there,” said Bybee.

Lone Peak’s Justin Hartshorn is the top returning state placer from last season, while Fremont’s Zach Winter and Westlake’s Logan Anderson were other top finishers.

American Fork’s Carson Clinger and Lone Peak’s Josh Erickson are a couple of other runners who will be competitive in 6A.

A year ago American Fork’s girls edged Davis for the team title, with Lone Peak a distant third. The order could very easily reverse this year with the influx of talent at Lone Peak.

There were only three underclassmen who finished in the top 10 at state last year, and two were from Lone Peak, Ali Bybee (eight) and Madison Hafen (10th). In Lone Peak’s two most recent races they’ve actually been finishing behind two of their own freshman teammates, Reagan Gardiner and Eliza Arrington.

“Our top four are really tight and really high, and our fifth has been good, not great. But if we can make her great then I think we’ve got a shot,” said Bybee.

Weber’s McKenna Lee is the top returning finisher from last year’s state meet as she was a runner-up.

Other top runners include American Fork’s Lexi Wright and Pleasant Grove’s Haley Tanner and Westlake’s Abby Jensen.

Class 5A

At the 40th annual Murray Invite last Friday, Springville’s Brandon Garnica edged Olympus’ Jima Rout by .10 seconds in a thrilling finish.

It was likely a preview of what’s to come the rest of the season in 5A, a very competitive classification with multiple teams and individuals in the hunt for championship hardware.

The boys side in particular should be very competitive.

Last year Olympus snuck in and claimed the 4A boys title, but this year Springville and Timpanogos are the front runners. At the Murray meet, Springville edged Timpanogos for the team title, with Skyridge and Olympus in third and fourth.

Springville and Timpanogos are in the same region and will race against each other a lot this season. Timpanogos coach Jody Benson really likes how his team is progressing.

“The senior boys have really caught hold of the vision and are really driving this team to the next level of where we want to be,” said Benson.

At state last year, Springville’s Grant Gardner, Timpview’s Aidan Troutner and Springville’s Garnica finished second, third and fourth. They’re all back this year and top contenders again along with Timpanogos’ Brennan Benson and Ben Berlin.

Timpanogos’ girls took state a year ago by edging Mountain View by just one point, and Skyline by just five points.

The T-Wolves’ top four finishers were all underclassmen (Madison Moffitt, Holley VanSchouwenburg, Taylor Viertel and Brooke Mashburn), but they’ve been dealing with some injuries this season which has slowed their progress.

“We’re doing OK, we’re not where we were the past couple years. We’re not where we want them to be yet, but we’re focusing on October and November,” said Benson.

Skyline’s top four finishers were also underclassmen, led by Camille Winterton who was the top underclassmen finisher in fourth place last year. Mountain View remained in 4A with the UHSAA realignment and is competing for a different state title.

Maple Mountain has emerged as perhaps the favorite in 5A this year. After finishing in fifth place at state last year, the Golden Eagles won the Highland Invitational in August and then finished third behind Lone Peak and Mountain View at the Utah County Invitational two weeks ago.

Class 4A

Of all the classifications, realignment figures to have the biggest impact in 4A.

It was already a strong classification highlighted the boys and girls teams at Pine View and Desert Hills, but with Ogden and Mountain View dropping down it should make everything even more competitive.

Desert Hills’ boys and Pine View’s girls are the defending champs, but repeating won’t be easy.

Desert Hills was a senior-loaded team last year, with Bryson King the only underclassman notable contributor. Second-place Pine View, meanwhile, returns three of its top five runners while third-place Stansbury returns four of its top runners.

Despite the departure of key seniors, Desert Hills coach Logan Fielding has been very impressed with how others have stepped up.

“If I’m being honest I didn’t think we’d be in the mix this year, but after the start of the season and some of the races we’ve had, I think it’s going to be extra close at state. It’s been nice to see this group of boys work together,” said Fielding.

Ogden’s boys finished fourth in 4A last year, and even though it was led by a couple of talented seniors, the program figures to reload and will push Desert Hills, Pine View and Stansbury

Perhaps the most intriguing story line in 4A involves in the individual title. Lehi’s Ryan Raff is one of the elite runners in the state, finishing fourth in a very deep 5A field a year ago. Hurricane’s Caleb Armstrong, meanwhile, has established himself as an elite runner himself and has eyes on the individual title too.

The 4A girls field is loaded with contenders, as the top eight placers at state last year are all back led by Desert Hills' Bailey Brinkerhoff.

Three of those top eight finishers were from Pine View, which edged Desert Hills for the team title. Both might be looking up at Mountain View this year though.

The Bruins return all four runners from last year’s 4A runner-up team, including Alissa Fielding and Mimi Miyazawa. Both finished in the top 10 at the Murray Invite on Friday — but so did Pine View sophomore Jessica Hill.

Mountain View edged Pine View by one point in the team standings at the Murray meet.

Class 3A

The revamped 3A classification is the only one without a defending state champion.

Last year’s 3A champs — Desert Hills boys and Pine View girls — both bumped up to 4A, while last year’s 2A champs stayed in the same classification.

That’s created new opportunities for teams not used to cross country success. Richfield’s boys finished seventh at last year’s 3A state meet, but the six teams ahead of it all bumped up a classification.

On the girls side, the top five teams moved up, while Juab, Richfield and Carbon finished sixth, seventh and eighth.

“There’s quite a bit of excitement for the boys and girls this year,” said Richfield boys cross country coach Jim Monsen.

Richfield’s boys return six of its top seven runners from last year, including its top three state finishers, Nick Woolsey, Hayden Harward and Jonathan Monsen.

Grantsville and Emery, which finished second in 2A last year, should be in the mix for the 3A boys title as well.

On the girls side, Judge might be the early front runner as Madelyn Bossarte, Ryan Allison and Isabella Jones have posted strong times this fall for the program that dropped down a classification.

Juab sophomore Lorralyn Bronson is the top returning placer at last year’s state meet as she finished 12th.

SeOnna Southwick is the top placer from Richfield returning, as she finished 22nd at state last year.

Class 2A

Last weekend North Summit teammates Sadie Sargent and Maggie Zwahlen split up and ran in separate meets, each with tremendous success.

Sargent won the prestigious Murray Invite which featured elite runners from 6A, 5A and 4A. Zwahlen competed at the Wasatch XC Invitational at Soldier Hollow and finished third.

Later this month they’ll likely finish 1-2 at the state meet as North Summit’s girls try to repeat as state champ.

“I’m sure Sadie’s goal is going to be to probably have the best time in 1A through 6A, so it’s been really helpful to have those two push each other. They’ll run with the boys and keep right up with the boys,” said North Summit coach Dave Peck.

North Sevier and Millard will very much be factors in the team race though. North Sevier is led by Mayci Torgerson, who finished fourth at state last year.

Millard finished third last year, but returns all of its state placers led by senior Maria Josse. The already deep squad got a boost this fall with incoming freshman Audrey Camp and Katy Kelly, who finished first and second in the JV race at Soldier Hollow.

Millard’s boys are the defending 2A champs, but it graduated three of its top five placers from last year. The top returners are Shade Woodard and Jaren Camp.

Emery finished second a year ago but it’s competing in 3A this year.

North Summit hopes to close the gap on Millard as it returns every state placer from last year except for the individual champion, Jace Richins.

“I think we have a really good group who can contend for the state title,” said Peck.

Parowan figures to be a factor in the boys and girls team races as it bumps up a classification from 1A. Parowan’s girls won the state title last year while the boys finished second.

Class 1A

While realignment has strengthened some classifications, it was weakened others — and 1A is one of them.

Parowan’s girls won the 1A state title last year while the boys finished second, but the school is bumping up a classification this year.

For Panguitch that opens the door for a state title sweep.

Panguitch’s boys dominated en route to its second straight 1A title last year and even though its top two finishers were seniors, Bosten Englestead, Kaden Beckstead and Luke Reeder all placed in the top 13 and will take on larger rolls.

Monticello’s boys won four straight titles from 2011 to 2014, and with its top four finishers from last year returning it should be in the mix for the team title again. Junior Adam Bunker is the top returning underclassmen from last year’s 1A state meet as he finished fifth.

Panguitch’s girls also won state titles from 2011 to 2014, but it has taken a back seat to Parowan the past few years. It won’t have to worry about the Rams in 2017 — even though it might’ve won anyway.

Sophomore Taylia Norris finished second at state last year, one of five underclassmen who placed at state last season.

Valley sophomore Keziah Palmer finished third at state right behind Norris last season, and the two figure to battle it out again throughout the cross country season.