Editor’s note: This is the eighth of an 11-part series profiling various spring high school sports in Cache Valley and recognizing the seniors from those teams.
The 2020 high school track & field season was shaping up to be an intriguing one for every one of the girls programs from Cache Valley.
All five Cache County teams had the potential to be better they were a year ago. Ridgeline had the pieces in place to capture its first-ever region championship, but the Riverhawks would have received some stiff competition from Bear River, Sky View and maybe even other squads. Meanwhile, Green Canyon, Logan and Mountain Crest brought back several of their best performers from the 2019 campaign. The Mustangs, Grizzlies and Wolves were only separated by six points at the Region 11 meet last spring.
Unfortunately for these local athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the season barely after it started. All of the teams in the region were only able to compete in one meet before everything ultimately came to a halt.
Here is a breakdown of each Cache County girls program:
It’s been a while since the Lady Mustangs haven’t finished among the bottom two teams at the region meet, but this could have been the year they experienced a breakthrough.
Powered by junior Alisabeth Apedaile, who is one of the best all-around track & field athletes at the 4A level, Mountain Crest was primed for a breakout season. The Mustangs also have a talented senior in Addison Wood, plus a handful of underclassmen who are on track to blossom in the future.
“Our girls were looking pretty solid,” MC head coach Isaac Reeder said. “I’m not sure how we would have competed on the region level, but as far as our program (compared to) the last four years, I think we were going to have a good, standout year and hopefully build on it.”
Apedaile would have been among the favorites to win a 4A state title in the long jump this season, along with Logan’s Amber Kartchner. This classification was dominated by Orem’s Taye Raymond the previous two seasons, but the Tigers moved up a classification prior to the 2019-20 academic year.
Apedaile is the two-time defending region champion and school record-holder in the event. The junior also would have been a legitimate state championship contender in the 100-meter hurdles, plus she has all-state potential in the 300 hurdles and open 100.
Sophomore Maya Miller is a returning state qualifier in the 200 and likely would have punched her ticket to state in the long jump this spring. Wood made it to state in the 300 hurdles a year ago and is a solid high jumper.
Amelia Zilles was a region finalist in the 200 and 400 as a freshman, while fellow sophomore Abigail Case was looking sharp after missing the 2019 cross country season with an injury. Case was Mountain Crest’s top performer at region in the 1,600 and 3,200 last season.
Reeder really liked what he was seeing from his other distance runners, especially freshman Jordan Merrill — who placed 29th at the state cross country last fall — Marissa Hancock and Kaelee Ward.
Another athlete Mountain Crest’s head coach was expecting big things from was sophomore Katelyn Hardy, whom he said “looks like a college track athlete.”
In addition to Wood, the Lady Mustangs had five other seniors in Kestley King, Julia Park, Janine Schroeder, Shaylee Voth and Reagan Watrin.
“One of my assistant coaches wrote the seniors a letter,” Reeder said. “I wrote a short note to the whole team. I explained how hard this process of losing a season was on me and how I’d miss all the personal growth that comes with each season, but at the same time I told them that because of their efforts and those of all our community, that I truly believe that lives in Utah — and even Cache Valley — have been saved. I sincerely believe this and I thanked them for their sacrifice.”
A very large senior class, coupled with a few very talented underclassmen, headlined arguably the best Ridgeline girls squad in the program’s four years.
“In the girls program, again with our depth overall in multiple events and some real stars in the lineup, it was (our region title to) lose,” Ridgeline head coach Katrina Parker said. “Sky View and Bear River always have tough teams to beat, especially in the boys, but they are always contenders in the girls.”
The Lady Riverhawks were led by Olivia Smith, a two-time region champion and state placer in the 300 hurdles, plus fellow seniors Aleena Wilcox and Tess Lawson. Those three athletes were capable of scoring points at the state meet in multiple events. In fact, Lawson tied for sixth place in the long jump and high jump at the 2019 4A Championships. Wilcox also competes in those two events.
Ridgeline was coming off a very successful cross country season as it finished third at the 4A meet. Junior Madison Patrick placed third at that meet, younger sister Alexis, a sophomore, was ninth, and sophomore Mackenzie Duncan was 25th. Madison and Alexis Patrick are returning state qualifiers in track — Madison in the 800 and 1,600.
Other competitors Parker was anticipating to fare well were sprinters Naomi West, Mataya Forsgren — who sparkled in her team’s dual meet in March — and Keslie Duersch, middle distance runners Alex Baer, Reese Heninger and Ellie Kotter, and distance runners Brynlee Brown and Ali Baker. Parker was also very excited about the uptapped potential of future BYU soccer player Abbie Kotter.
“She had a strained hamstring/quad and still ran a 63 in the 400,” Parker said. “... She can do anything.”
The Riverhawks have 19 seniors in Taijsha Banham, Alexis Benitez, Jenny Bertolio, Emily Espinoza, Olivia Frandsen, Avery Gunnell, Abigaile Hunting, Abigail Jensen, Kotter, Lawson, Taylor Reeve, Hailey Schenk, Smith, Kaycee Thalman, Sophie Webb, West, Wilcox, Samantha Wiser and Olivia Wright.
“As the time came for us to compete at the dual with Green Canyon, the AD/principals were taking what they had just learned from the district and making the decision to continue with the meet or cancel,” Parker said. “It was really a last-second decision, but we knew this would probably be it (at the very least) for a little bit. I pulled my team of 200 together for the final words before we began, I knew what I needed to say. I reminded them what I have preached from the very beginning of my time as a coach (that) track & field is a means to the end; it teaches us to be great contributing humans in our world. ... I love these kids and I wish I could make this all be different. They all deserve the world.”
Powered by bona fide state title contenders like Kartchner and Milly Garren, this could have been a promising season for the Grizzlies.
“The girls track team was projected to do better than the previous year at region, where the team got fourth,” Logan head coach Eric Strand said. “We were returning most of our high point scorers and the team had a good chance to get third, maybe even second at region.”
Kartchner is Logan’s record-holder in the long jump and she is also a very good high jumper. The junior could have made some noise in both of those events at state.
Garren is the reigning region titleist in the discus and she was definitely among the favorites to claim the gold medal in that event at state. The sophomore is also a returning state qualifier in the javelin and surely would have punched her ticket to state in the shot put.
“She and her family have spent a lot of time working on her throwing,” Strand said of Garren, whose older sister Maia is a standout throw for Utah State. “It is very likely she could have won several region titles, as well as completed for the state title in the discus and shot.”
Strand was looking forward to breakout seasons from Ashley Coppin, Abigail Blanchard and Gracie Laney, who “worked very hard during the indoor season was ready to get some PRs.” Additionally, Strand said talented basketball player Taylor Rose “was getting to get the hang of the hurdles.”
In addition to Blanchard, the Grizzlies had 12 other seniors in Marylinn Hamblin, Katie Hildebrandt, Emilianne Jones, Kamryn Laing, Zoie Lee, Sara Menedez, Ellen Molin, Amy Prieto, Laurie Reeve, Lydia Semadeni, Aspyn Singletary and Hannah VonNiederhausern.
“Seniors mean a lot to any track team,” Strand said. “When you have 120 athletes on your team and six coaches you have to rely on your team leadership to run practice and meets smoothly. You have to rely on your seniors to help establish the team atmosphere. ... Besides my family, there probably is not another thing that I care more about or spend more time doing (than track & field). I sent out a message discussing that there would be no track season this year and checked out for the next couple days. I stopped running, stopped talking to people outside my family, I felt lost. These are the strangest times we are living in, but it is necessary and I understand that.”
With athletes like Jayden Beach, Ryley Thompson, Bella Jensen and Jordyn Thompson, this surely was Green Canyon’s best squad in the program’s third year of existence.
“We did a lot of work before the season started and were excited to see it come to fruition,” GC head coach Jody Porter said. “We had a lot of new and returning athletes that were showing great promise. It has been a building process since the schools split and we were looking to see some major progress this year.”
Beach was quite possibly the valley’s most consistent high jumper during the final month of the ’19 season, and would have been a serious contender at the region and state levels. She tied Lawson for the No. 6 spot at state in the high jump as a sophomore.
Beach and senior Kaitlyn Hoffman cleared the bar at 5 feet, 0 inches, in Green Canyon’s dual meet against Ridgeline.
In addition to Beach, the Lady Wolves brought back a few other state qualifiers in an individual event in Jensen (3,200), Ryley Thompson (300 hurdles) and Taylor Hinds (long jump), who is still recuperating from her knee injury. Jensen “was coming off a stellar cross country season and (was) diligent (with her) training over the winter,” Porter said.
Kaitlin Compton and Jordyn Thompson missed their junior seasons due to injuries, but “they were primed and ready to make their mark” this spring, Porter asserted. Green Canyon’s head coach was also anticipating big things from Amy Gonzales-Hernandez and Maggie Stephens.
Three other Green Canyon athletes who looked good in the aforementioned dual meet are sprinter McKenna Crane, thrower Jane Rodriguez and jumper Emily Phelps.
The Wolves have eight seniors in Compton, Gonzales-Hernandez, Jensen, Ciera Stastny, Stephens, Jordyn Thompson, Hoffman and Naomi Pitcher.
“Oh man, I love our seniors,” Porter said. We have experienced so much together by this point in their career — tragedy and disappointment, triumph and success, gut-busting workouts and team parties, stiff competition and tough personal goals, beautiful weather and terrifically horrible weather, and so much more. I was saddened when simple things like ‘May the Fourth Be With You’ and Cinco de Mayo came along because we usually celebrate those together. We are connected way beyond track. These are my kids that their parents so generously share with me.”
The Bobcats graduated the best girls distance runner in school history in Arianna Steiner, but welcomed back most of their top performers from a year ago, and a lot of these girls are underclassmen.
“My main goals were focused around the individual progression and success of each of the athletes on our team,” SV head coach Hannah Tingey said. “The nice thing about track & field is that a team victory is not necessary for every athlete to walk away from a meet having achieved a new personal record. I wanted each athlete to accomplish their own goals, and I truly believe that if the season had not been cut short, they would have.”
Senior Ellie Smith was a returning state qualifier in the 100 hurdles, while gifted underclassmen Katyrra Peck and Lydia Duffin were also back. Peck competed in the 100 and 200 at state, and Duffin in the 400.
Junior Kate Dickson really flourished during the ’19 cross country season and ended up earning all-state honors by placing sixth at the 4A State Championships. Dickson, the region runner-up in cross country, was primed for a huge season on the track.
Tingey was excited about a lot of her athletes this spring and was particularly expecting breakout seniors from seniors Samantha Hall, Gracie Castillo and Smith.
“If I were to give you a full list of everyone I think would have accomplished great things this season, it would take up a full page,” Tingey said.
In addition to Castillo, Hall and Smith, Sky View’s senior class was represented by Savannah Buttars, Ashley Dawes, Anna Hooley, Makayla Johnson, Skye Mortenson, Grace Rawlinson and Katelyn Wallace.
“Our seniors are so important to the team,” Tingey said. “... Regardless of their level of experience, they all demonstrated fantastic leadership in their events and made it a priority to involve younger or less experienced athletes. I was sort of in denial about the end of the season for quite a while, and continued writing workouts as if we were going to be back after spring break. I think about this lost season and my athletes almost every day, and I wish things had turned out differently. In spite of this, I feel confident that our seniors will go on to do amazing things and that our younger students will make a great comeback next spring.”