"Third place is out of it. They're not even in the race," said Park City's cross-country coach. "It's basically a dual meet."
It's hard to argue that.
The Park City High School girls' cross-country team, winners of the last four 3A state championships, is looking to win No. 5 this afternoon at Sugar House Park. Standing in their way are the nationally-ranked Ogden Tigers, the same team that was supposed to run away with the crown a year ago.
But the Miners had different plans.
Park City topped a group then ranked No. 13 nationally by ESPN thanks to a superb group effort by a crew that will return to see if it can win another state championship.
Coming off a Region 10 title at the Cottonwood Complex Oct. 10 in Salt Lake City, the Park City girls' squad will be led by seniors Ali Walker and Annie Orr. Also competing as the Park City Seven for the Miners at state this afternoon will be Alyssa Snyder, Leah Lange, Sophie McDonald, Emily Schmitt and Summer Dvorak. That group took seven of the top eight spots at the Region 10 championship, something Wyant said even he didn't anticipate.
"We knew we would be dominant in our region," he said. "We didn't know it would be that good. They've been the top seven for the last three meets. They've shown that they're the prime team."
But the Tigers will have a say in things today in Salt Lake City. "We know that they have us hanging on their wall -- literally," Wyant said. "There will be no surprises. We're as ready as we can be; it's just a matter of who brings it the most Wednesday.
Winners of nine of the last 10 3A state championships, the Park City girls' squad has an "it" factor that not many teams have, according to Wyant.
"Last year, we all went down there thinking we were going to lose and hoping for the best," he said. "This year, it's not going to be an upset either way. I think either team that wins is going to be expecting it. I think you have two very strong teams going head-to-head."
The Park City boys' squad finished second at the Region 10 championship meet in Salt Lake City last Wednesday, but did go 1-2 individually as seniors Ben Saarel and Colter Merritt led the way for the Miners. Wasatch won the overall boys' team title, but Wyant said with Saarel and Merritt, Park City has a chance at a top-three finish at today's state meet.
"Suddenly it's not out of the question," he said. "Colter's was the bigger race for us. He was in a battle for second with a group of Wasatch guys. He's a winner; he doesn't lose if he's got a chance at it."
As for Saarel, the two-time defending 3A individual state champion will look to cap off his stellar Miner cross-country career with a third straight state title. According to the Utah High School Activities Association's sports record book, only two other male runners (Cody Moat, Duchesne, 1993, 1994, 1996; and David Spence, Timpview, 1986-1988) have ever won three individual state titles.
"There is a risk involved, and that risk is, 'Do you try and go out and run fast and break away from the group and into the record books?'" Wyant said. "Ben's a racer, not a pacer. To run for a record, you have to do it solo. If you let off the throttle a little bit when you're hurting -- that's when you get caught.
"To run into the record books, you still have to keep your feet in the fire."
The girls' race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m., while the boys' race is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. at Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City.