Buckaroo boys win first 1A Utah State cross country championship in five seasons, girls take fourth

by Haley Burton
Contributing Writer
The 1A Utah State Girls Cross Country race was held on Tuesday, October 24 at the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex in Rose Park.
The course is designed to produce fast race times. It’s run entirely on grass and is the flattest course the Monticello Buckaroos have run on this season.
The top lap course allowed those spectating to cheer on their runners from multiple points in the race. It was a cool crisp morning when 12 1A girls teams stepped up to the starting line to begin the first race of the day.
The lead runners pulled away from the rest of the pack early on in the race. By the first half mile Marah Long was holding in the fifth place spot. She kept the lead pack in sight and with only half a mile to go she had moved into fourth.
If you have ever seen Marah run, you know she has a look of focused determination. You could see it in her eyes the last 100 yards of the race as she moved her way into third place and finished with an incredible time of 19:38.
Ayla Carling and Lilli Burton have finished within seconds of each other all season. It is what I like to call a healthy competition. They push each other to be a little better each race.
In the first mile of the state race the pair ran nearly side by side. Carling slowly pulled away landing herself a top-ten finish. She took ninth place with a time of 21:41.
Burton sustained an injury shortly after the region race and went down several different avenues to try to nurse herself back to health in the week leading up to state. With sheer grit and determination she ran in spite of her pain, finishing in 18th with a time of 22:37
If you give Alexis Bailey a job to do, she will do it. She set a new personal record by 40 seconds at state and bested her top time on the state course by 61 seconds. She finished 31st overall with a time of 24:11.
The Panguitch Bobcats have taken home the girls state title every year since 2020. They are a tough team to beat. This year there were three teams competing for the second-place trophy.
In the end only eight points separated those three teams. The Rich Rebels took second, Whitehorse grabbed third, and the Lady Buckaroos snagged fourth.
All four members of the girls team will return next season as seniors with hopes of a few new freshman to strengthen the team.
“It’s kind of hard to sum up the state races,” Monticello Head Coach Jeff Hunt said after the event. “Starting with the girls we knew we had a mountain to climb. Panguitch is a multi-year defending state champion and we knew that both Whitehorse and Rich had really improved from last year.
“With only four girls there was no margin of error. Everyone had to have the race of the year. In many ways the girls’ performance was just as impressive as the boys’.
“Marah was picking off runners one-by-one while Alexis destroyed her PR by 40 seconds. Ayla gave it all to finish in the top ten and Lilli in tears pushed through the pain of her injury.
“They gave everything they had and I am moved when I think about what they were able to accomplish despite all they had been through,” concluded Hunt.
Sixteen teams comprised of 101 runners traveled to Salt Lake City to compete in the 1A Utah State Boys Cross Country Championship. The Monticello Buckaroos were ranked first all year and they were itching to bring back a State Championship trophy. The last time they earned the title was in 2018.
Once again the lead runners were established early in the race. Monticello runners never led but they maintained a tight pack throughout the race.
Kooper Nielson paced the Buckaroos, crossing the line in seventh place overall with a 17:55 finish. Jesse Pettit was not far behind in eighth place with a time of 17:58.
Next came Kaden Pehrson in 11th place, Curtis Bunker in 16th, Soren Welch in 17th, and Aaron Gillette in 19th. Aaron Peterson finished 67th.
That put six of the seven team members in the top 20 and only 56 between them. That is how a state championship is won.
Just past the finish line all the boys were laid out on the ground. Some were gasping for air, some had tears, and others were moaning in pain. All had pushed their bodies to the limits.
When all the scores were tallied Monticello did in fact win their first state cross country title in five seasons. The Bucks scored 42 points to finish 43 points ahead of the second-place Altamont Longhorns.
Coach Hunt described the scene: “For the first five minutes or so after the boys race seven young men sat in exhausted silence. The look of relief on their faces was more prevalent than the celebrations that were to come.
“It took a few minutes for me to grasp that we had won as well,” said Hunt. “We knew we had to not only get four finishers under 19 minutes, but we knew we had to have a gap of under a minute.
“That means the boys not only had to run well, but they had to run together. Weeks earlier at San Juan, Escalante put a scare into us. We beat them but not by much, so we knew we needed to run better.
“We needed a better mindset if we were going to achieve the goal of winning state this year. Since UVU was on their fall break [former MHS state champion] Adam Bunker came by and gave great race advice and they took it to heart.
“In the end, six boys finished within 56 seconds of each other,” said Hunt. “Soon the relief gave way to celebration.
One of the things I’m most proud of is that four different runners led the team at different races this season – Kaden, Kooper, Jesse, and Curtis. Five boys set personal records at state – Kooper, Kaden, Soren, Aaron Gillette, and Aaron Peterson – and six finished as All-State runners.”
The Buckaroos will be losing four runners next season in Pettit, Bunker, Welch, and Peterson. But for now they can enjoy their state championship. Congratulations to all the runners and Coach Hunt.
An additional congratulations goes out to Coach Hunt who was named 1A Coach of the Year along with Danny Yardley from Panguitch.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday