In October the Park City High School senior, who is arguably the best runner ever to come out of the storied and successful local program, won the 3A state cross-county individual title. Saarel then traveled to Arizona and finished second in the Nike Southwest Regionals, competing against the top runners from seven states. Two weeks later he won the Foot Locker West Regional meet against a quarter of the top runners in the nation.
One could get tired just reading the list of accolades that Saarel has gathered in such a short period, but Saarel just keeps adding more. On Saturday, competing against the top 40 high school runners in the nation at the 34th Annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships National Finals (FLCCC) at Morley Field in Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif., he took an impressive fourth place.
Running in perfect 63-degree weather, Saarel was able to find success against the nation's elite by successfully navigating the park's hilly course and breaking away to move from eighth to fourth place at the end of the race. Saarel finished just 15 seconds off of the winning time.
According to Park City cross country coach Jeff Wyant, who traveled to San Diego with the young runner, this entire experience has been thrilling.
"We've never had anyone else like that," he said. "This is a whole different level."
That's saying something, considering that Wyant has coached more than his share of state champion and future collegiate runners.
"People who compete in this (race) end up in the World Championships and Olympics," he said.
Plenty of important people were there to witness Saarel's success. Wyant was pretty sure that every single Division I distance coach was in attendance at the meet, all hoping to sign one of these top runners.
"Everyone comes in for the event," he said.
Saarel, who is a top student, has yet to make a decision about where he will run in college, but thus far there is no program that doesn't want him.
Foot Locker pays for the prep runners to travel to California to compete and, with all the talent and college coaches, the weekend was a bit of whirlwind. Wyant said Saarel was feeling the pressure but handled it well.
Saarel will now start training for the outdoor track season, where Wyant expects him to break more Park City and maybe even some Utah records. He will be joined by a very talented Park City squad, which includes four to six runners who are poised to receive athletic scholarships to compete in college.
First place in the Foot Locker meet went to Edward Cheserek of Newark, N.J., who defended his national title, finishing with a time of 14 minutes and 59 seconds. Cheserek was followed by Sean McGorty of Fairfax, Va.(15:05) and Jake Leingang of Bismarck, N.D. (15:07) with Saarel in fourth with a time of 15:13.
"It's pretty impressive to see that caliber of runners," Wyant said.
According to a Foot Locker press release, the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships are comprised of four regional 5K races, which take place in the Midwest (Kenosha, Wis.), Northeast (Bronx, N.Y.), South (Charlotte, N.C.) and West (Walnut, Calif.), culminating in the national finals. More results and race footage can be found at www.footlockercc.com.