There are about 14,000 boys high school cross country teams and two of the top four are here in Utah.
Furthermore, Utah had four boys earn All-American honors with their performances in Saturday’s Nike National Cross Country Championships at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon.
But maybe most impressive is what American Fork senior Casey Clinger accomplished when he became the first prep runner to repeat as the Nike Cross Country National champion, earning his second consecutive national title with a time of 15:28.4.
Clinger knows a little something about managing pressure, as he owns the state course record, the national course record (set last year at 15:03), back-to-back state titles, back-to-back national titles and three-time All-American honors.
“He’s definitely one of the best,” said American Fork head coach Timo Mostert of the senior who is still deciding where he will run in college. “If he does well post high school, maybe he could be considered one of the best from a national perspective. Right now he’s on the list of the three or four best all-time.”
Clinger’s goal wasn’t just to win an individual title, it was to lead his team to a championship. The Cavemen ended up second after Bozeman (Montana) High School won with a score of 105 points. American Fork was second with 141 points, bolstered by the finishes of Clinger’s teammate McKay Johns, who finished ninth with a time of 15:46.9, and Patrick Parker, who was 20th with a time of 16:01.5, earning both of them All-American honors.
Mostert said the boys were a little disappointed with second place, but it still put them on the podium in an extremely competitive field.
“Our goal was to win,” Mostert said. “Bozeman just ran fantastic. We had a great race…We did what we could do, and Bozeman just ran a phenomenal race.” Considering only three members of the 2016 team ran varsity last year, it’s impressive that the Cavemen were even vying for a national title.
“I only had three runners back,” he said. “It was really a rebuilding season, so for us to get second place was just incredible.”
American Fork wasn’t the only local team to run an impressive race Saturday. Davis High's boys came into the race ranked anywhere from 15th to 19th, depending on the source, and ended up finishing fourth.
“We thought if we ran solid, we’d be in the top 10,” said Davis head coach Corbin Talley. “Our dream goal was top five. And it worked out for us.” The team, made up of six seniors and one junior, ran one of its best races led by Camren Todd, who earned the Darts’ best national meet finish ever with a time of 16:12.2, good for 33rd place.
“The seniors just stepped up,” Talley said. “It was their last race, their last big opportunity to grit out a cross country course and they ate it up. It was cool. Instead of going out with something they might regret, they went out on their greatest performance.”
For the first time, Nike presented two coaches – a boys coach and a girls coach – the inaugural Joe Newton Coach of the Year Award for their “passion and commitment” to the sport of high school cross country. Talley was honored as the boys Coach of the Year, an honor he knew nothing about until his name was called.
“That was a really, really nice surprise,” said Talley. “It just made me feel good.”
Senior Joe Benson of Timpanogos qualified as an individual and finished seventh with a time of 15:45.2 to earn first-team All-American honors.
Springville also qualified a boys team and finished 15th behind sophomore Grant Gardner’s 47th-place finish with a time of 16:24.7.
Utah women were represented at the national championships as well, with Bingham’s Whitney Rich finishing 11th with a time of 17:58.1 to earn second-team All-American honors.
In the Footlocker regional cross country championships, Weber High’s Talon Hull won the race with a time of 15:29, while Ogden High’s Travis Feeny was seventh with a time of 15:46. Orem High’s Jiraa Riding finished 10th with a time of 15:54.
On the women’s side, Provo’s Kate Hunter finished fourth with a time of 18:04, while American Fork’s Sara Musselman was eighth with a time of 18:14.
These top-10 performances qualify these Utah runners for the Footlocker National Championship Saturday, Dec. 10.