Winning a state championship is the top priority for cross country runners at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's.

That's the sentiment that the team expressed to new coach Mark Oftedal while preparing for the season.

"I think our team is in position," Oftedal says. "They're going to have some tough competition."

The Rowland Hall coach is still trying to get his bearings as he takes over the program. The former East High coach says he'll know more after the squad goes through its pre-region meet. For now, he jokes about even finding the 2A schools. North and South Summit along with Juab should provide the chief competition to Rowland Hall at the region level, but Oftedal's team is thinking bigger than just a league title.

After taking home a third-place finish at last year's 2A state championship, the team has upped the ante. For the first time, Rowland Hall is running against top varsity teams, regardless of classification.

At the Murray Invitational and the Wasatch Rendezvous, the boys team ran against the front-line athletes from Davis, Bingham, Alta and Orem. In the past, the 2A team would only run in the junior varsity flight. Going head-to-head with the state's best runners has already paid off.

"Yeah ... I think it does," Oftedal said. "This is the first year we've run against the varsity. I think it was a big boost to their confidence."

Rowland Hall is led by several experienced runners and a few newcomers who have stepped up to give the team a bright future. Phinehas Bynum and Wilson Dippo lead the way for the eastside school, along with improved runners, Alex Edgley and Daniel Livsey.

Freshman Nathan Zick is the team's fifth runner, giving Rowland Hall a solid group of five. With hopes running high this season, Oftedal is trying to keep his troops on an even training pace. The veteran coach says his team is capable and willing, but they can't burn up all of their energy in September.

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"You've got to remember it's not about these weekend meets, it's about the meets in October," Oftedal said.

No doubt, Rowland Hall is a strong contender for state but there are others to watch out for. Defending 2A champion Richfield has several athletes back from its championship squad. Meanwhile, state runner-up Parowan has enough savvy runners back to take a legitimate shot at the title.

It is definitely crowded at the top for Rowland Hall.


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