Buckaroo XC team returns experience
by Rhett Sifford
Last year the Monticello High School cross country team finished in third place in both the girls and boys state competitions with just two seniors on the team.
This year the Buckaroos return some experience and look to make a bigger splash in the 1A ranks. MHS Head Coach Jeff Hunt, who is entering his 18th season at the helm, fielded several questions about his team as they prepare for the first meet of the year.
Rhett Sifford: Coach, I know you’re returning a little bit of experience this season. Can you give your thoughts about the team in general as you get set to start?
Jeff Hunt: Yes, most of the team is back even though we still only have two senior boys and no senior girls at the moment, so you could say that we are both young and veteran.
Both teams should be solid with a legitimate shot at winning the region and making some noise at state. Both teams worked really hard this summer with Coach Bunker and are improving through early workouts.
RS: Have any runners surprised you with their growth and performance since last year?
JH: During track Jesse Pettit took a huge leap forward, medaling in three out of four races at state, and that was with a stacked field. He has taken up the mantle of being a contender for a state medal and a region title.
Soren Welch really came on at the end of last year and could be vital if we make a title run. Really all the boys have followed suit as they look to improve on their third place finish from last year. On the girls side, the 1-2-3 punch of Lilli Burton, Ayla Carling, and Marah Long all seem to have made strides as well.
RS: Are there any strong young runners coming up?
JH: Kooper Nielson was phenomenal for the junior high last year in limited races and looks like he can contribute right away, while Aaron Petersen will be fighting for a varsity spot against the veterans.
The girls really haven’t added anyone new and the team as a whole will need to step up to replace Lily Long’s consistency.
RS: Who do you expect to step into leadership roles this season?
JH: Curtis Bunker and Ayla Carling have really stepped up as leaders not only with words but actions as well. They get everyone going at practice and put in the work.
RS: Where do you expect to have strengths this year?
JH: The boys have depth. Beyond Jesse and Curtis, we have a solid eight runners that could jump in and run varsity and not miss a beat. Jacob Johnson and Josh Wheeler are great senior leaders with a lot of experience while Kaden Pehrson continues to grow and improve. Aaron Gillette and Carter Harrod are pushing the boys for varsity experience.
On the girls side, our biggest strength is that we know what we have: Lilli, Ayla, Marah, and Alexis Bailey. We know they will give their best.
RS: In what areas might you need work?
JH: On the boys side, we really had too much of a gap between one to four last year. Teams that grouped runners could and often did beat us. We need to work on being an orange wave at the finish line. For the girls, we really lack depth, so one injury could really prove costly.
RS: How do you stack up against region and state competition this year?
JH: Whitehorse and Pinnacle were both solid in the region last year and I expect that will be the same. The Whitehorse girls have some phenomenal runners coming up and our girls have their work cut out for them. The Buckaroo boys are still the clear leader in the region.
On the state level, the Milford boys and Panguitch girls are the clear favorites. The boys stack up well with the Tigers and could give them a run along with Water Canyon, Bryce Valley, and Panguitch.
On the girls side, there are a host of teams with a shot at a trophy behind the Bobcats. Whitehorse, Bryce Valley, and ICS all look good early.
The Bucks begin the 2022 season with a road trip to Spanish Fork this Saturday, August 27. The race begins at 10 a.m.