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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
The Class 3A Cross Country State Championships at Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.
I think the biggest thing was realizing that it’s a decision you have to make if you’re going to get better or if you’re going to get stronger. Nobody can take that away from you. ...I’m back where I want to be now. —Union's Kennedy Powell

SALT LAKE CITY — Shortly after Kennedy Powell won the 2015 state cross country championship, the Union runner began to struggle.

It wasn’t her ability that was an issue.

It was the debilitating sadness that had saturated her young life. In fact, she felt so hopeless, she contemplated suicide, repeatedly.

“I was actually diagnosed with major depression,” she said. “So we went to talk therapy and I started taking medication.”

She continued running, but she also continued struggling.

She placed 18th at last year’s cross country meet. She said it wasn’t one moment that helped her heal, it was, instead "a lot of hard work and crying.”

“I think the biggest thing was realizing that it’s a decision you have to make if you’re going to get better or if you’re going to get stronger,” she said after winning the 2017 3A cross country championship in fairly dominating fashion. “Nobody can take that away form you. …I’m back where I want to be now.”

Powell won the state title with a time of 18:42.0, while Grand freshman Kylah Ricks finishing nearly a minute later with a time of 19:30.0. Grantsville senior Sabrina Allen finished third with a time of 19:39.5

Powell said she doesn’t mind sharing her story, including the fact that she still takes medication to help her deal with mental health issues because she knows she’s not alone.

“I don’t mind sharing it because I feel like I’ve worked through it,” she said. “It sucks. For those people who do have problems like this or even just any mental problem, it sucks, and it’s going to suck, and hearing this, you’re not going to want to believe it, but it does come down to your own decision. And after you finally figure that out, that’s when you can start rising up again.”

The Cougars' girls cross country team qualified for the state championship meet for the first time in many years.

“We haven’t even had a girls team in quite a few years, much less qualify for state,” Powell said, after congratulating and embracing both her teammates and the competitors she bested Wednesday at Sugarhouse Park. “Obviously coaching is the biggest thing (responsible for building the program) and then after that, it’s just encouraging each other and sharing in each other’s wins and losses. You form that bond and then you automatically start to go faster and you start to push harder because you know you have people who are counting on you, and you’re counting on them.”

Winning her second championship in her senior season was an achievement she worked hard to attain. But being able to do so with teammates on the start line with her was an extra special gift.

“To have a team like this has been amazing,” she said. “It’s like my biggest dream come true, senior year, to finally have a girls team.”

San Juan edged Juab for the 3A girls team title with 67 points to Juab’s 75. Rachel Barton's 19:54.8 (sixth place) finish led the Broncos to that victory. Judge Memorial was third with 106 points, while Morgan was four after scoring 106 points.

In the boys race, Manti senior Jordan Cheney edged Grand senior Ryan Lewis in one of the most exciting finishes of the day. Cheney won with a time of 16:01.6, while Lewis crossed second second in 16:02.2. Porter Whitworth, a sophomore from Grantsville, finished third with a time of 16:06.3.

It was a college coach who suggested Cheney give up football in favor of cross country. The Kentucky coach suggested that he could earn a scholarship if he’d commit to running cross country as a junior, and Cheney said he decided he had a better build for endurance sports than football.

“It was a good race,” said a breathless Cheney. “I just hung on to like, 10th place, and then started getting them one by one.” He scanned the crowd for “my buddy” Lewis, who was a bit wobbly after the race, and said the two have a friendly rivalry.

“We’re rivals, and I just wanted to get him this time,” Cheney said, pouring water into his mouth. “He beats me. I get him sometimes, but most of the time it’s him.”

Emery's boys won the team title by the narrowest of margins. The Spartans and Richfield tied with 70 points each, which is the score accumulated by each team's first five of seven runners. The tie is broken by comparing the finishes of each team’s sixth runner and, in this case, Emery’s runner, Chase Christiansen, finished one place ahead of Richfield sophomore Treyson Hansen. Only six seconds separated the two athletes.

Coaches constantly remind runners that no matter where they are in the pack, the team may depend on their effort, and that happened several times on Wednesday.

“In this case, it was crazy because our sixth runner is normally our number one,” said Kristy Guymon, who coaches alongside Talina Labrum. “So you just never know what’s going to happen. …He didn’t have his best race, but he still couldn’t give up. We needed him and he did exactly what he needed him to do, even though he wasn’t feeling great.”

Class 3A state cross country meet Boys team scores 1. Emery 70, 2. Richfield 70, 3. Morgan 83, 4. Grantsville 88, 5. Grand 91 Individual results 1. Jordan Cheney, Manti 16:01.6; 2. Ryan Lewis, Grand 16:02.2; 3. Porter Whitworth, Grantsville 16:06.3; 4. Carson Wilkins, Morgan 16:12.7; 5. Hayden Harward, Richfield 16:24.0; 6. Evan Ellison, Grand 16:34.9; 7. Malachi Ricks, Grand 16:36.5; 8. Tanyon Allred, Emery 16:40.2; 9. Bryan Meccariello, Emery 16:46.6; 10. Seth Beckett, Grantsville 16:47.5 Girls team scores 1. San Juan 67, 2. Juab 75, 3. Judge 106, 4. Morgan 108, 5. Grand 113 Individual results 1. Kennedy Powell, Union 18:42.0; 2. Kylah Ricks, Grand 19:30.0; 3. Sabrina Allen, Grantsville 19:39.5; 4. Madi Tartaro, Judge 19:43.2; 5. LorraLyn Bronson, Juab 19:47.8; 6. Rachel Barton, San Juan 19:54.8; 7. Maura Williams, Juab 19:58.7; 8. Sidney Snow, Union 19:59.7; 9. Nizhoni Warren, San Juan 20:31.2; 10. Jessica Walker, San Juan 29:32.9