Buckaroo cross country team conquers Southern Utah University Invitational course

by Haley Burton
Contributing Writer
It was a hot and humid day in Cedar City at the Southern Utah University (SUU) Cross Country Invitational on Saturday, August 19.
The terrain of the SUU course was a drastic change from the Boggy Draw trails the team raced on in the mountainous hills of Colorado on August 12.
The race, held at Bicentennial Park, was nearly entirely run on grass except for a small section of a paved pathway. Several loops were run around the park making it an ideal race for the enthusiastic spectators in attendance.
Fifteen teams from the southern areas of Utah were in attendance. The competition was tough with only three other schools from the same 1A divisions as the Buckaroos.
Most of the teams compete in the 4A classification. There were a couple 2A schools and a single team representing the 3A classification.
The SUU Invite is the only regular season race giving Monticello teams an opportunity to compete against both defending 1A Utah State Championship teams.
Water Canyon beat Monticello for the boys state title by nine points in 2022. The Panquitch Bobcats have held the girls 1A state title for the last three years. They are titles the Bucks are eager to win this year.
Four races were run on the course this past Saturday – boys and girls varsity races and boys and girls junior varsity. Both Monticello teams competed in the junior varsity division. 
A total of 249 racers fought for positions across the starting line of the boys JV race. Once again Jesse Pettit led the Buckaroos with an 11th-place finish with the time of 17:43.
Curtis Bunker followed 42 seconds later in 25th place. Kaden Pehrson (18:28) and Kooper Nielson (18:53) finished 36th and 41st with only five seconds separating them.
Soren Welch came across the line in 20:33 as the fifth runner on the team, helping to secure a fourth-place finish for the team.
Additional runners for Monticello included Aaron Peterson, Aaron Gillette, Charlie Welch, Mckay Nielsen, and Alejandro Austin.
You know the phrase, “Good things come in small packages.” Well, that describes the MHS girls cross country team perfectly.
Though they only have four runners on the team, they pack a punch. No less than three of them finished in the top 11 spots of a race that featured 122 athletes.
Marah Long hunted the lead runner from Canyon View throughout the race. She took the lead 300 yards from the finish line and finished ten seconds ahead of the second-place runner.
Lilli Burton finished in ninth place with a time of 22:18. Ayla Carling ran the 5K in 22:32, finishing in 11th, and Alexis Bailey crossed the finish line with a time of 25:42 to secure 49th place.
The 1A classification is the classification in the state where team scores are figured on the top four runners.
All other classifications score the top five. They may not have had enough runners to place as a team but the girls proved they are a force to be reckoned with.
Reflecting on the SUU Invitational, Monticello Head Coach Jeff Hunt stated, “We ran much better this week and it was great to have everyone available.
“I think this week we solidified ourselves as contenders. The season is still young and we haven’t seen results for Rich or Whitehorse. Both are good teams, but we are in the hunt.
“If you look at just the 1A teams this past weekend, using 1A scoring the boys shut out all 1A schools while the girls finished a close second.
“The boys also beat the 1A defending champions, Water Canyon, who moved up to 2A this year. So I like where we are and I hope we can still grow and get better as the season progresses.”
This week you’ll have an opportunity to see both teams in action. The Buckaroos host the annual Loyds Lake Classic on Friday, September 1 on the trail around Loyds Lake at the base of the Blue Mountains. Racing begins at 3 p.m.

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