Monticello cross country teams finish fourth
After the Monticello boys cross country team claimed first and the girls grabbed second at the Region 16 Championships two weeks ago, the teams appeared ready to run well at the Utah State Championships at Cedar City High School Wednesday, October 21.
In a normal year, the teams would be running at Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City, but due to fear surrounding COVID-19, the race was shuffled early in the season to have the 1A, 2A, and 4A teams run in Cedar City with 3A, 5A, and 6A in Heber City.
The Monticello girls, unscathed by the virus all season, received a harsh piece of news when one of their top runners tested positive the day before the team was to leave for state.
She was required to stay home while an understandably disappointed team was forced to take only five runners and hope for the best.
The girls were first to toe the line in Cedar City – and the entire state for that matter – kicking off the state cross country championships.
Sophomore Adri Bird, hobbled by an injury that sidelined her for the last quarter of the season, was edged out at the end of the race by a Parowan runner but still led the Lady Bucks to a third-place overall finish with a solid time of 19:10.
Her ever-consistent teammate, junior Lily Long, ground out a nice run to claim a seventh-place finish with a time of 20:22. Long placed eighth last year at the 2A state competition, so this year’s finish was a one-spot improvement as she heads into her senior season.
Senior Serra St. Clair ran a very good time of 22:56 for a 30th-place finish, closing out a very fine career with Monticello after running varsity all four years.
Running in their first state championship races, freshman Shannon Morrison and sophomore Hailey Gillette ran hard, placing 53rd and 61st with times of 25:10 and 31:37.
The girls’ efforts were good enough for the team to place fourth overall, scoring a respectable 108 points behind state champ Millard (44), North Summit (51), and Parowan (75).
Coach Kasey Harris deserves much credit and praise for her girls’ performance at state. She guided the team to back-to-back state fourth-place finishes after they struggled for years to even make the state race.
The team says goodbye to seniors Kennedy Brewer (who made the 2A Academic All-state team) and Serra St. Clair. The girls will be missed not only because they are nice runners, but good people too.
The future is bright for the girls with four of five state runners returning and a class of talented freshman coming into the program. The team has a chance to improve on the past two seasons, and it should be fun to watch.
Coming into the state race, the Monticello boys were projected to have a shot of winning it all if they ran well. They hit the course right after the girls, and it was looking good when senior Corey Bunker was barely out-kicked by a Wasatch Academy runner at the finish line to claim third place with a time of 15:54.
Corey’s time is extremely good and the only one below 16 minutes at state we’ve ever seen by a Monticello runner. It’s a new school three-mile record that eclipses his brother Adam’s previous school record time of 16:20.
Buckaroo senior Alan Pettit, the ever-consistent second runner this season, had a great state race scoring another top-10 finish when he placed sixth overall with a solid time of 16:36.
Alan had a remarkable career with Monticello, claiming four individual state top-10 finishes (third in 2017, second in 2018, fifth in 2019, and sixth this year) and running on two 1A state championship teams in 2017 and 2018.
Fellow MHS senior Eric Montague, arguably the most improved runner on the team, ran a solid race and finished in 17th place after crossing the line in 18:04.
What came next was the wave of Monticello’s future when freshman Jesse Pettit and Josh Wheeler finished in 34th and 37th with times of 18:52 and 19:00, Monticello’s final two scoring runs.
Freshman Curtis Bunker finished next for MHS with a time of 19:11, good enough for 44th place. Junior Bailey Walker was the final Monticello runner to finish, 60th in 20:08.
In a very tight race, Monticello ran well enough to score 80 points and place fourth behind state champion Millard (56), Rowland Hall (60), and North Summit (73).
Coaches Jeff Hunt and Brad Bunker did very well with this group, winning a region title and competing well for a state championship.
The team will bid farewell to five talented senior runners this season: Corey Bunker, Alan Pettit, Eric Montague, Taw Robinson, and Mahonri George. But they’ll return four state runners and some promising freshman next season.
Hopefully, next year’s cross country season will allow the teams to get back to normal and run many of the races that were missed this season due to the coronavirus.
That said, the teams should be grateful they had a full season and were able to complete it with little disruption.
The same cannot be said for the Monticello volleyball team, who had their season cut short by a mandatory virus quarantine.
The Lady Bucks limped to a 6-15 completion of their regular season a little shorthanded, and playing numerous underclassmen with very little varsity experience.
Still, they were looking forward to finding out the team’s UHSAA volleyball RPI rating and playing in a state playoff game.
When the rating came out on Wednesday, October 21 the Lady Bucks were ranked 16th and were scheduled to face a lower seed from another region in the opening round of the 2A tournament on October 24.
Sadly, that game never was played as Monticello vacated its state playoff spot. The team was forced to quarantine when some of their players were deemed to have had direct exposure to COVID-19.
It’s hard enough to end the season on a loss, but to end it without having the chance to compete has to be extremely disappointing for the girls.
The Lady Buckaroos say goodbye to seniors Whitney Knudsen, Ellie Nielson, and Saydee Adams along with all the leadership, experience, and production they brought to the team. They will be missed.
On the bright side, Monticello has a core of young players who received valuable varsity experience at the end of the season as they were pressed into service.
The team will be led by a new head coach beginning next year as long-time coach Tony Esplin retired following this season. Esplin has coached volleyball at Monticello for some 29 years, with a few years taken off midway through that streak.
Under his tenure, MHS won 1A state titles in 2011 and 2012 and filed many other very competitive teams. Tony’s calm, steady demeanor and dry wit as coach will be missed.
When the UHSAA football RPI came out two weeks ago, the 2-7 Monticello Buckaroos learned they were ranked 11th in 2A football and would play the #6 Milford Tigers on the road Friday, October 23 in the first round of the state tournament.
It was an anxious week for the team with COVID-19 cases and quarantines hampering other school sports and activities and threatening the team’s ability to play their game. But, as luck would have it, 25 players were cleared that Friday morning to make the trip.
After the long bus ride, Monticello tried but couldn’t get anything going offensively. They struggled on defense as well, giving up four touchdowns and a field goal in the first quarter to find themselves down 31-0 at the end of one frame.
The second quarter wasn’t much kinder. MHS gave up two more scores to Milford and again the offense couldn’t find the end zone as the Bucks went into halftime down 44-0.
Under running-clock rules in the second half, Monticello gave up one more Tiger touchdown and a two-point conversion that swelled the Tiger lead to 52-0.
However, with 50 seconds to go in the third quarter, quarterback Devin Hatch hit KC Benge on a nice 20-yard pass play that resulted in the only Buckaroo touchdown of the afternoon. After a failed two-point attempt, Monticello trailed 52-6.
In the fourth quarter, Milford tacked on one final TD on a long pass play with two minutes to go in the game, making the final score 59-6.
With the loss, Monticello ended a frustrating season with two wins and eight losses. The year could have turned out much differently in a non-COVID world.
Arguably, the Buckaroos would have started the year much differently had they been able to play the first three games they were originally scheduled to play against Monument Valley, Whitehorse, and Dolores, CO instead of football powers Kanab and San Juan.
The team, although very young at numerous positions, has to bid farewell to many key, skilled senior position players, namely Tuff Adair, Joe Boyle, Josh Dilts, Cedar English, Buddy Morrison, Robert Musselman, Grant Nebeker, Brevin Olson, and Drew Westcott.
Hopefully Head Coach Reed Anderson can find replacements next season and Monticello can get back to their winning ways on the gridiron.