Published: Sept. 5, 2007 7:00 a.m. MDT
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It's clear to Region 2 cross country coaches that two teams will separate themselves from the pack at some point during the season.

On the boys side, Alta and Skyline appear ready to dominate the league. The Hawks might not have a superstar runner, but they do have a monster of a team. The defending region champions return most of their top athletes from last season and are brimming with confidence.

If we can keep them healthy, this will be the best cross country team Alta has ever had, said Hawks coach Rob Murphy.

The Hawks return 21 of the team's top 22 runners from last season. Skyline's boys are right behind Alta in the region's power rankings. Class 5A medalist Steve Clark returns for his senior year and looks good. The senior ran faster than anyone in the field at the pre-region meet held Aug. 22. With more talent on board this year, the Eagles are in line to qualify for state and maybe even threaten for a title. The boys will lean on Clark but second-tier runners like Thatcher Olson, Isaac Hales and Morgan Empey are improved, giving Skyline confidence heading into the season.

We expect big things out of that second group, said Skyline coach Tom Porter. Getting them all under 17 minutes (would) give us a chance to make some noise at state.

 

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Skyline girls have one of the state's elite runners back in Shalaya Kipp. The defending individual 5A champion is back in the mix and looking for back-to-back state titles. Fremont's Cassie Ricks pulled off that feat in 2004 and 2005. The rest of the Skyline girls have enough talent to threaten for a region title, but their coach says the trick is believing they can do it.

We feel like we have a team that can contend, Porter said. Jordan being the defending state champions, we're always comparing (ourselves) to them because they set the standard last year. This year, we're hoping we can get the confidence to overcome that.

Region coaches also believe Alta's experienced girls team will be strong contenders to win the league and that they might be the odds-on favorite because of their numbers. Defending state champion Jordan has been in a funk and Beetdiggers coach Greg Cramer fears they are suffering from a championship hangover. He isn't happy with what he's seen from his girls team so far. Some teams are on the rise and some are falling back, but nobody is standing pat in this Region 2 cross country round-up.

ALTA: The Hawks won the region championship easily last year and they did it with a near perfect score. Alta is hoping to improve on last year's seventh-place finish at state and many coaches believe this team will. Kyle Moffet, Jack Webster and Garrett Jones lead the way for the region favorites. This strong group of runners make Alta a legitimate threat to challenge for the 5A crown.

Parker Syndergaard, Brandon Moore, Will West and Mike Cushing give the Hawks the most balance of any team in the region. Coach Rob Murphy is looking for every advantage and has sent at least one runner to compete in a Region 3 meet this season, just to evaluate the competition.

Alta's girls aren't as highly touted as the boys, but they should contend for the region title. Marissa Floodman, Megan Jones, Jamie Jacobs and newcomer Kaitlin Syndergaard round out a talented girls team, which should battle Jordan and Skyline for the region crown.

JORDAN: A young core of runners return for the boys team. Junior Reid Jones blossomed during last spring's track and field season and has carried it over to cross country. Parker Lloyd and Jake Neilson will set the tone for the young Beetdiggers team. Freshmen Josh Haertel and Chris Lam have been pleasant surprises for a team that should qualify for state. The defending Class 5A champion girls team has been hurt by injuries and seems to be in a malaise according to their coach.

We're not running as well, said Jordan coach Greg Cramer. We were running much better this time last year. Believe it or not - I'm a little concerned.

Regaining their focus and motivation could be the team's biggest challenge this season. Stephanie Burt, Samantha Robinson, Aimee Haertel and Demi Brog will lead the way for the reigning 5A champions.

SKYLINE: The Eagles are improved and they return big time talents to both the girls and boys squads. Steve Clark is one of the state's top runners and will be a strong favorite to win the medalist honors at SugarHouse Park later this fall. Thatcher Olson, Morgan Empey and Isaac Hales round out a solid group that should provide the toughest challenge to region favorite Alta.

The girls are also anchored by state champion runner, Shalaya Kipp. The senior runner gets help this season from Rachel Webb, Megan Combe and Taylor Berhow. Several other runners are pushing each other to break into the girls top five. Eagles coaches say both teams are right where they want them to be at this point in the season.

BRIGHTON: Coach Eileen Struna likes what she sees from the Brighton boys. Senior Oliver Williams is one of the top runners in the region and should carry the Bengals. Ben Schmidt, Matt Christensen and Ben Christensen are also stepping up this season. Like many teams in the region, the Bengals have numerous runners showing promise but no one has established themselves yet. Coaches feel the boys will continue to progress and could surprise at the region championship. The girls team lost two of their top athletes to academic ineligibility just before the season began, dropping the girls into a somewhat of a rebuilding mode. Senior runner Kalina Zufelt is back along with strong runners Paige Hamilton, Janine Smith, Mary Ballstaedt and Jen Frost. If the team gets Jenessa Carlson back from injury, Brighton has a chance to qualify for state.

HILLCREST: New coach John Olsen is depending on team captain Jameson Reich to lead the way for a young group of runners. Building a core group of athletes is a top priority for Olsen. Sean Larsen, Derek Croft and Dan Reich will be important pieces of the Huskies developing boys' program. Olsen believes, with more consistency, his team could go toe-to-toe with Brighton, Jordan and Taylorsville for a qualifying spot in the state meet.

That's our goal. We set lofty goals and I think we'll be close, Olsen said.

Hillcrest's girls team is most likely going to struggle this season. With sophomores Annicka Carter and Quinci Millar leading the way, Hillcrest could use a little more seasoning. Junior Cheyenne Thompson and newcomer Madison Day will provide depth but they may need a year to develop.

TAYLORSVILLE: Coach Robby Duncan brings in a winning formula from his time spent at Bingham. Both girls and boys programs at Taylorsville were in need of an overhaul but, according to Duncan, the team has bought into his philosophy rather quickly.

The fun part is they're a hard-working group of kids that really want to be successful, Duncan explained.

The new coach doesn't want to write off this year's team because anything could happen at the region championship. Realistically, it will be tough for seniors Kirt Haywood and Hayden Santy to turn around the Warriors fortunes this season. Next year, Bryce Stamp and Monty Bergener should be the key runners along with a pack of younger athletes hoping to get Taylorsville back on the cross country map.

The girls team is small in numbers this season. Freshman Aly-Marie Clements and all-state softball player Heather Gardner are the team's top athletes. The girls are most likely going to be bringing up the rear in Region 2, but the wheels of change are in motion. Just how quickly their new coach can turn the program around is the big question at Taylorsville.

 


E-mail: tpeterson@desnews.com