In just two weeks, cross country teams from around the state will converge on Sugarhouse Park for another state meet — and this year, Utah Valley teams are among the best in the two largest classifications, both boys and girls.
In the boys, 5A's American Fork and the 4A threesome of Orem, Timpview and Mountain View all have legitimate shots at a state title. And if Region 7's championship meet is any indication, nobody in 4A has a clear advantage.
"What excites me about state is the amount of depth," said Orem coach Andy Jacobs. "There's four teams that could win."
Boys 5A is no different. Skyline, American Fork, Alta and Davis all have legitimate shots at a first-place trophy.
"There's five really strong teams in 5A," American Fork coach Timo Mostert said. "We could end up first or sixth. If everyone's healthy and we have the strongest fifth man, we could win."
Led by senior Ben Felix and sophomore Robby Lee, the Cavemen started off the season with a strong showing at Region 4's pre-season meet and added victories at the Nebo and Orem Kiwanis invitationals to their resume. American Fork struggled with depth early in the season, but the emergence of sophomore Shawn Crane gives the Cavemen enough depth one through five to run with any team in the state.
The Timpview Thunderbirds have run with bull's-eyes on their chests since beating a strong Mountain Crest team by just two points for last year's state title. All-stater Brian Fletcher and junior Jon Nelson hope to lead the T-birds to a repeat of last year's championship but will have to fend off a loaded Region 7 to do it.
The Orem Tigers, led by Darren Ott, Bryan Willoughby and Benjamin Johnson, beat Timpview at pre-region and finished just one point behind the T-birds last week at the Region 7 championships.
"We've known we've had a good team all year long," Jacobs said. "We've had about a 40-second gap in our top five, we'd probably like it a little closer at state, but we're very optimistic."
The Tigers finished second at the Orem Kiwanis Invite to American Fork and won a competitive Murray Invitational in September.
Lurking just two points behind the Tigers in Region 7 is Mountain View, a school with more state championships than any other program in Utah. The Bruin's lone returning all-stater, Travis Fuller is no longer alone up front with the addition of Greg Bate who finished second in the region. Don't count Mountain View out as a potential 4A champion.
Individually, Region 7 champion Spencer Gardner of Springville is the favorite for 4A, with top three finishes at multiple invitationals this year.
In girls 4A, Orem has rounded into shape and should be the team to beat. With a healthy Krystal Harper, significant improvement by junior Kendy Christensen, a deep top five and a Region 7 Championship under their belts, the Tigers are not only the class of Utah Valley's 4A teams but maybe the whole state.
"The girls are running fresh and ready to go for state," Jacobs said. "When (Krystal) works hard and really dedicates herself, she improves. She's ready and really wants it."
In 5A, Davis, American Fork, Timpanogos and Spanish Fork are all strong, with the Darts the clear favorite.
"No one will catch Davis, but second place is wide open," American Fork girls coach Bruno Hunziker said.
Alexis Laws leads American Fork and has improved steadily throughout the season. The sophomore and 2006 all-stater won the Nebo Invite and finished sixth at the Orem Kiwanis Invitational. She'll be challenged by Brooke Hodson and Suzanna Sorenson of Timpanogos as well as senior Kirsten Sly of Spanish Fork. Region 4's three top teams have taken turns beating each other all season, and will all vie for a highly coveted second-place trophy.