Monticello wraps up fall, looks ahead to winter sports season

Like a pall hanging over everything in our world today, COVID-19 and all that comes with the disease is certainly a dark cloud hanging over Utah high school sports in 2020 and it appears that it will for some time to come.

Many, including us, thought way back in the spring that the coronavirus concern would be temporary, it would be long gone by now, and everything we love about sports and competition would be back to normal.

Oh, how we underestimated this pandemic and its reach.

The threat of COVID-19 certainly touched every aspect of Monticello fall sports, including what opponents were played, when they were played, what kids could play, and how they could participate when competitions were held.

At times these sliding guidelines were maddening as kids, parents, and school officials tried to sort everything out with the singular goal of protecting the personal health and safety of all involved.

This week, we’ll look back at the MHS fall sports seasons of golf, cross country, and volleyball and look ahead to the winter sports season that will soon be upon us.

In the coming weeks, we’ll provide a football recap with the final stats for the season.

Golf
The Monticello golf team was likely the least-affected by COVID-19 restrictions. We are not aware of any matches that were cancelled or even rescheduled, nor are we aware of any golfers sidelined by the virus or quarantined.

After finishing fourth in Region 16 for the second year in a row, the Monticello boys qualified for state and finished ninth overall after missing the first-day cut.

It appeared to be a step back after the boys finished seventh at last year’s tournament, but if not for a scoring issue, Monticello would have qualified for day two with their chances of finishing higher than seventh place a real possibility.

Hopefully, the disappointment of the abrupt end to the season will motivate the team that returns nearly its entire roster for next season minus the lone senior Corey Bunker.

The Buckaroos return three top-ten region golfers: Boston Freestone (second), Bailey Walker (third), and Breckyn Hoggard (sixth), as well as Alec Christiansen, Garrett Larsen, and Darren Westcott, all of whom made great improvements from the start of this season to the end.

If this team can build on what was a successful season and work hard over the summer they can certainly improve and contend in Region 16 and 2A state next season. 

Cross country
The outbreak of COVID-19 certainly affected the Monticello cross country teams. Coaches seemingly had to scramble all season to find races for the teams to run.

Before the season began, Monticello was notified that they were not welcome to attend any races in Colorado, which comprises a significant number of races during the regular season. That meant races at Durango, Pagosa Springs, Mancos, and Cortez would have to be replaced.

Other Utah races, like the BYU Invitational, which gives runners a chance to race against some of the best in the state were scrapped entirely this year.

Meaningful races are the lifeblood of building confidence in cross country runners and these missed chances cannot be replaced. 

Therefore, Monticello had to rely on mainly their Region 16 races and some local races to fill the gaps. Fortunately, the Bucks were able to attend larger races in Heber City in September and Cedar City in October.

The Heber City race was held at Soldier Hollow, the site of the 3A, 5A, and 6A state championships. The Cedar City race, the site of this year’s state championships for 1A, 2A, and 4A schools, gave the teams a chance to see the state course. 

The Monticello teams made the most of these races. Adri Bird and Lily Long ran well, placing ninth and 40th in their race at the Wasatch Invitational and 26th and 125th overall against Utah girls from all six classes in the four varsity races.

The boys also ran well in Heber City with Alan Pettit and Corey Bunker placing 14th and 16th in their race and 50th and 57th overall against the best talent in the state from all classes.

At the Cedar City race, Lily Long placed 53rd in the girls varsity race and Corey Bunker and Alan Pettit finished 13th and 33rd overall. This race set the team up for a nice state meet.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions in Salt Lake County, the 2020 Utah State Cross Country Championships, usually held at Sugarhouse Park, were moved to Heber City and Cedar City as previously mentioned.

Coming into the state meet, the boys were hoping to improve on last season’s third place finish; individually, seniors Corey Bunker and Alan Pettit were hoping to improve on third and fifth place finishes.

They both ran well; Corey finished third again with Alan placing sixth. The team placed fourth overall behind Millard, Rowland Hall, and North Summit.

The scoring runners for Monticello were senior Eric Montague, who finished 17th; freshman Jesse Pettit, who placed 34th; and freshman Josh Wheeler, who finished in 37th place.

The girls also hoped to improve on their fourth place state finish last year, but the loss of a key runner to COVID-19 set the team back.

Individually, sophomore Adri Bird hoped to improve on her state runner-up finish and junior Lily Long hoped she could best her eighth place finish at state last year.

Adri came in third this season and Lily moved up a spot to seventh overall. The team once again placed fourth behind Millard, North Summit, and Parowan with the scoring runners including senior Serra St. Clair, who placed 30th; freshman Shannon Morrison, who claimed 53rd place; and freshman Hailey Gillette, who came in 61st overall.

The future is bright for the girls, who return four of five state runners. A class of talented freshmen are coming into the program so the team has a chance to improve.

The boys lose a lot of upperclassmen, but the team has some good young runners to build on in the coming years. 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 virus.

But as we stated a few weeks ago the teams should be grateful they had a full season and were able to complete it with little disruption.

Volleyball
Arguably, the Lady Buckaroo volleyball team was hit the hardest by COVID-19. With a young team in 2020, Coach Tony Esplin was hoping his girls could improve on their 12-12 finish last season.

However, the coronavirus restricted the team’s ability to attend a volleyball camp this summer and get crucial experience before jumping into regular season play.

How much that affected the team is hard to say, but they seemed to struggle all season to find their rhythm, managing only early season wins against 1A Green River.

Besieged by severe roster disruption due to COVID-19 late in the season, the team limped to a fourth place Region 16 finish and an RPI ranking of #16 after posting a 6-15 overall record.

COVID-19 delivered one final cruel blow as the team was unable to play in the Utah State 2A Volleyball Championships when they were forced to quarantine after some of their players had direct exposure to the virus.

Sadly, seniors Whitney Knudsen, Ellie Nielson, and Saydee Adams were never able to finish the season on the court.

On the bright side, Monticello has a core of young players who got some valuable varsity experience at the end of this season as they were pressed into service.

Better days are ahead for Monticello volleyball, and we hope, for the country besieged by this pandemic.

Winter Sports
In the coming weeks we’ll have season previews of both the Monticello boys and girls basketball teams as they head into the 2020-21 seasons.

Both programs have new head coaches. Marcia Shumway takes over the helm of the girls team from Kraig Black and Josh Keyes leads the boys program after Tony Esplin decided to step down this fall as head coach of girls volleyball and boys basketball

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