After losing star runners like Maddie Criscione, Kenzie Bothner, Ali Walker and Sophie McDonald to graduation, the Park City High School girls' cross-country team will feature a lot of new faces this year.
The same will be true for the boys' team, which returns only three varsity members from last season.
"We're not exactly starting from scratch," PCHS coach Steve Cuttitta said. "But we have pretty much a whole new team. We have two varsity returners for the girls and we'll have three for the boys and then we'll fill in from there."
But Cuttitta, who is taking over for Jeff Wyant, said he expects both the boys' and girls' teams to compete for 3A titles again. The Miner girls are on a streak of six-straight 3A titles that this year's squad has no intentions of ending. Meanwhile, the boys will try to improve upon last year's runner-up finish.
"I think we'll compete for the 3A title in both," Cuttitta said. "But a lot is going to depend on how much we improve in the next two months. I haven't seen the rest of the 3A competition yet, but the girls probably have a great shot to win or be top two at least. With the boys, I anticipate we'll be competing for a top two or three spot. That's my expectation and that's their expectation as well."
He added he won't be putting pressure on the girls to keep the state title streak going, but acknowledged that there's a standard other teams have come to expect from Park City.
"We've won six girls' titles in a row, but I won't say the pressure is on because a lot of these girls haven't been on varsity," he said.
When Cuttitta said the teams wouldn't be starting from scratch, he meant it. The girls' squad has Alyssa Snyder returning, as well as Leah Lange. Snyder has been a key component to both the cross-country and track teams for her entire PCHS career and Lange was also a member of last year's state title team.
"It's really nice that we do have runners that have been there and won state titles," he said.
"Leah is back and she was our fifth runner last year. We expect her to step up into that second or third spot."
For the boys' squad, the returning varsity runners would like to get to the top after almost reaching it last season.
"Wes Miller was on varsity last year and ran at the state meet," Cuttitta said. "He did pretty well, so he'll be one of our top runners, along with Sam Edmunds and Jesse Case. They've almost been to the top, so they know what it takes and they can pass that down to the younger members of the team this year."
Cuttitta talked a lot about the Miners' youth, but, he said, it's not necessarily a weakness to be so young.
"I'd say it's a strength because they don't know what they're getting into," he laughed. "So, they're willing to try anything. There are no preconceived notions and nobody is going off on his or her own. I think that's a good thing."
So with the senior leadership mentoring the younger runners, Cuttitta expects this year's team to jell over the course of the season, which begins on Thursday at the Highland Invitational at Sugarhouse Park.
"That's similar to the state meet course," Cuttitta said. "So that'll be a good preview. And it'll be kind of our rust-buster race."
The big date on the Miners' calendar at the moment is the Park City Invitational, which will be held on Friday, Oct. 3. Cuttitta said the Miners are excited to show what they can do on that course.
"It's our home course, it's at elevation and it's hilly," he said. "So we look forward to that one a lot."
PCHS Cross Country Schedule
Aug. 21 Highland Invitational
Aug. 27 at Union
Aug. 30 Grass Relays in American Fork
Sept. 10 at Uintah
Sept. 12 Herriman Invitational
Sept. 17 at Juan Diego
Sept. 27 Bob Firman Invitational in Boise
Sept. 30 at Morgan
Oct. 3 Park City Invitational
Oct. 14 Region 10 Championships in Morgan
Oct. 22 State Championships at Sugarhouse Park