Now, he'll go down in history as one of Utah's greatest cross-country runners alongside two-time winner Clayton Young (2010-11 and 2011-12) and Austin West (2009-10) from American Fork High School, Jonathan Nelson from Timpview (2008-09) and Luke Puskedra from Judge Memorial Catholic (2007-08).
"There are so many good runners in Utah," Saarel said. "Just to be picked from that list is an honor."
The PCHS senior won the 3A state championship, the Foot Locker West Regional championship and finished second at the Nike Cross Nationals Southwest Regional championships during his final high school season. He also took fourth place at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
The former soccer and hockey player only started running in high school after some familial encouragement.
"My sister (Swarthmore College runner Emma Saarel) kind of forced me to do it my freshman year and I just stuck with it," he said. "It's an acquired taste and I just learned to like it."
The switch has paid off. Saarel's success led to scholarship offers from several Division I cross-country programs. Eventually, the University of Colorado won out over Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and Wisconsin, among others.
"I'm really stoked to be going there," he said. "It really reminds me a lot of home. The people there are the nicest people and the kids on the team are incredible.
While running has gotten him a college scholarship, he sometimes misses the physical nature of sports like soccer and hockey.
"From time to time I miss (soccer) a little bit because it's more of a contact sport," he said. "But running, you get so tired (the lack of contact) doesn't even matter."
Saarel, who sports a 4.0 GPA at PCHS, will pursue an academic path he hopes will lead to a medical career.
"I think it's important to realize that the main reason I'm going to school is academics," he said.
Eventually, he'd like to work in the field of cardiology, like his mother, Elizabeth, who is a pediatric cardiologist.
"If I could get anywhere near what she's doing, I think I'd be really stoked to be doing something like that," he said.
He'll try to find a balance between his running and his studies at Colorado during his freshman year while still trying to make an impact on the team.
"My biggest goal going in is just acclimating to the new school," he said. "After that, it's just a matter of trying to see how far I can take it."
Until then, he'll keep training (he runs at least six miles every day) and participating in a couple of his favorite hobbies sleeping and skiing.
"I really like sleeping," he said. "It's one of my main extracurriculars. And any time I can go out (skiing) on a Sunday and kind of relax, it's a great way to unwind after a week of training."
Get to know Ben
Favorite class: Chemistry
Favorite food: Lamb Vindaloo
Favorite movie: "Pulp Fiction"
Favorite band: The Beatles
Favorite sports team: Detroit Red Wings
Favorite sport (besides cross country) to watch/play: Soccer
Dream job: Cardiothoracic surgeon