The PCHS cross-country team is limbering up this morning for the Bob Firman Invitational, a milestone tournament in its drive towards the state championship.
The invitational is one of the largest middle- and high-school cross-country meets in the Northwest, according to Park City cross-country coach Jeff Wyant. The event, being held today in Boise, Idaho, is attracting some of the best teams from Idaho, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Utah and even Alabama to compete in the five-kilometer race.
Along with these out-of-state challengers, Wyant said local rival Ogden High School is sure to provide stiff competition for the Miners at the tournament. Wyant is focused on the long-range significance of the tournament, hoping to use the runners' performance against Ogden this weekend as a measuring stick of their progress.
"We have to see if we are any steps closer to beating Ogden," Wyant said. "We want to see if we are gaining ground. The ultimate goal is to beat them at the end of the season."
The Miners have been training hard since the beginning of August, and competed in their first meet almost a month ago. Wyant tends not to focus on overall records, but described their current standings in general terms.
"The girls have only seven losses overall, and that's against the 90-100 teams that we've competed against so far," he said. "The girls are fourth or fifth in the state, including 4A and 5A schools. The boys are only a little behind with 16 losses."
Wyant said there have been major improvements since the start of the season, especially from the sophomore and junior boys.
"The main improvement we are seeing in the boys is from the younger guys right now," he said. "They are dropping time very rapidly."
Junior Kyle Beling agreed with his coach's observation. "We've all been dropping at least 30 seconds from our times," he said.
Senior Ben Saarel, whose achievements in cross-country and track are well known in Park City, will have a chance to bolster his own personal record as well as his team's this weekend.
"Saarel is ranked number one in the state and has beaten every male athlete in Utah. Idaho is the next step," Wyant said.
Ranked in the top 20 in the nation, Saarel could be the first boy ever to win three years in a row if he takes home the individual 3A state championship this year. Saarel is a name to watch as the Miners progress towards the state championship on Oct. 17.
The girls have been shaping up as well. Wyant said that sophomore Alyssa Snyder, junior Sophie McDonald and senior Annie Orr in particular have seen improvement. With their growing potential, combined with the proven results of senior Ali Walker, Wyant thinks their winning tradition will continue.
"Those four are giving us a very powerful punch up front," Wyant said. "We just need a few more in addition to them to be an outstanding team."
Catch the Miners next week locally as Park City hosts an invitational of its own at Round Valley, featuring Uintah, Herriman, Lehi and West Jordan high schools. The race takes place next Friday, Sept. 28, with the girls starting at 4:45 p.m. and the boys at 5:30 p.m.