Have you ever seen a smile break through pain? There were two big grins at the conclusion of the Region 19 Cross Country race on a picture perfect Monticello day in October last Wednesday after Kendall Harris and Adam Bunker both became Region 19 Individual XC champs.
The Monticello boys team also took the Region team championship heading into the state XC meet at Sugar House, which will conclude the 2016 XC season on Wednesday. The girls team didn’t qualify for the state tournament for the second year in a row.
Harris qualified for the state XC finals for the fourth year in a row, the last two as an individual.
“It’s exciting!” she cheered, just moments after crossing the finish line 15 seconds ahead of second place finisher, Kianna Willie of Whitehorse. Harris finished second last year, so the beam was bright this year with the region crown on her head.
Harris and Willie ran stride for stride for most of the race, a clockwise circuit around Loyds Lake.
“We are about the same physically,” describe Harris, “but I knew I could beat her mentally.”
Harris noticed during the race, which she lead by a step most of the way, that on the downhill sections, Willie would draw up even with her, but on the uphill parts, she would drop back a few strides.
“I knew coming up off the trail [back onto the road] is a tough hill and I thought I could get a lead there. We’ve been working on hills all season, so I knew I could do it.”
Which is exactly what she did, leading by just a step or two going into that steep uphill, Harris pushed the hill and increased her lead to that 15 second gap by the top of the hill, and then cruised to the finish line.
At the state finals, Harris hopes for a top ten finish again, something she did as a freshman with an eighth place finish way back in 2013, running the course in 22:10. As a sophomore she finished 15th in 22:56 and last year was 18th in 23:10.
Harris was the only Lady Buckaroo to qualify for the finals this year. Kaitlin Morris finished 15th for the Bucks and Shania Begay 21st. The top ten finishers automatically qualify for the finals.
Smiles were broad for Adam Bunker, too, as he donned the region champ moniker. Sporting superb Superman socks, complete with a cape on both sides, Bunker jumped to the front at the opening gun and never looked back, leading the entire race to win in 18:31.
“They’re the whole reason I won,” laughed Bunker.
And the Buckaroo team was equally impressive, taking the first five spots and seven of the first nine to capture their sixth region championship in a row and eleventh in the last 12 years.
Lucas Hatch, a sophomore the same as Bunker, finished second for the Bucks in 19:02. Ryan Bird, a junior, was third in 19:18. Freshmen Dylan Bird and Hyrum Johnson were fourth and fifth in 19:19 and 19:46 respectively to round out the Bucks scoring, a perfect 15, the lowest score possible.
Two Monument Valley runners, Brandon Wilson and Michael John were fifth and sixth to interrupt the Buckaroo parade, who had the next four finishers, Justus Robison (8), Zac Musselman (9), Britton Brewer (10) and Joseph Morrison (11).
It’s that depth that the Bucks are hoping will carry them to another state team title this week.
“We have a good chance of taking state,” hoped Bunker.
Head coach, Jeff Hunt, agrees. “We do have a good shot to do well. Panguitch has got to be the favorite with Parowan and Altamont also having strong teams. We have worked hard and I like our chances with a really young team.”
Even though they are “a really young team,” the Bucks do have some state experience. Ryan Bird has run at state the past two years, finishing 35th overall on that state championship team of 2014 and 28th last year, when the Bucks were third. His times were 19:05 in 2014 and 19:16 last year.
Lucas Hatch, Zac Musselman and Britton Brewer were all on the third place team of last year, too, with Hatch finishing 31st in 19:21, Musselman 44th in 20L07 and Brewer 58th in 21:48.
The Bucks were so dominant at region this year, that they had nine of the first 11 runners. Teams have seven runners that run at state, with the top five scoring for the team.
In cross country, points are given based on the place one finishes in the race. And, uniquely to XC, even though the sixth and seventh runners don’t count in the team points, in which the lowest score wins, they can raise other teams’ scores by finishing in front of other runners, raising their score. So depth is doubly important in XC.
A state championship would be the boys tenth overall, putting them in a tie with St. Jospeph and Timpview for second most all time. Mountain View leads with 15 state titles.
OK boys and girl, make the whole town grin at state!