A New School, An Old Power And A New Rivalry In Utah

The dynamic of a powerhouse high school cross country program just north of Salt Lake City, Utah, will surely change in 2018 following the opening of a new school just five miles south of its walls. 

And it begs the question: Will Davis High School in Kaysville be the same dominant force it's always been?  

Just last year, the most successful coach the program ever had, Corbin Talley, moved on to Weber State after 10 years with the team and numerous accolades: 40 regional championships, 20 state titles and 11 Nike Cross Nationals qualifications, including two third-place outings at Nike Cross Nationals from the girls team in 2013 and the boys squad in 2011. 

Little changed in 2017 as Paul Timothy, an assistant for five years under Talley, took over and guided the Darts in his absence, earning a fourth-place finish at the Class 6A championships with the girls team and a seventh-place finish with the boys team. 

But in a few days Farmington High School, a state-of-the-art building seemingly just an earshot away from Davis, will open and bring in many of the same students that used to go to Davis. 

Incoming seniors at Davis--which won the Class 6A track and field championship on the boys side this past spring--living inside the new boundary were allowed to finish out their academic and athletic careers at the high school, though many sophomores and juniors within the new aligning moved on to Farmington.  

"We're just going to continue with what we we have," Timothy said. "There's not much we can do about the boundary change; we'll try to recruit kids within the school and build the system and we will still try to do all of what Corbin was doing."

The boundaries for the new Class 5A school teeter into Davis' former region and now enroll many of the same teenagers from the growing west side in Farmington, where young families are emerging twofold, Timothy said. 

Davis' new boundary, meanwhile, topples into the area that also funnels students to Layton High School, another Class 6A school. 

"We're senior heavy right now," Timothy said, "but we do have some new kids who are showing some potential. We had such a large, solid group that left. It might take a year or two to recover from that." 

This new reality isn't a death sentence, of course. Distance running is as strong as ever in Utah; both Davis and Farmington train at over 4,300 feet of elevation, and if given the chance to race outside the state, both would likely stack up well at sea level. 

Over the the past two seasons, the last two national individual champions have come from Utah (Aidan Troutner and Casey Clinger), while American Fork, located about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, earned two straight runner-up national team performances in 2015 and 2016 and remains one of the top programs in the country. 

But this new transition could start to break apart the dominant force at Davis, potentially creating another equally as talented program in Farmington.

Christopher Brower, a 27-year-old former assistant at Herriman High School who ran at Utah Valley University, now leads the new squad into the future.

One weird fact in 2018: Brower says he's coaching a few younger siblings of athletes at Davis.

He also welcomes one girl who finished in the top 35 at states for Davis in 2017: Elisabeth Ferrell (26th), who's doubling in cross country and soccer at Farmington this fall. 

"I'm obviously excited to see how we stack up against team in the state," Brower said. "Once we start racing, we'll start to establish what Farmington cross country is all about and what it looks like as far as legacy and tradition moving forward." 

With about 80-90 kids logging miles over the summer, including about a tight varsity pack, he's hopeful for his first season as a full-time head coach. 

But some obvious comparisons have stuck out as he's tried to guide his team.

"In the early summer it was a battle of, 'My friends at Davis are doing this," Brower said. "Sometimes it feels like we have to keep up with them and there's a lot of comparing." 

Brower is trying to build incrementally, which means he's not too fond of high mileage or speed work early in the season. In his first few weeks, he said he got a feel for what his runners were doing, incorporating modifications to training on tempo runs and other workouts. 

"I want to make something of our own," he said, "and work with what's working." 

But he also understands the tug-and-pull of that but-they're-doing-this dichotomy, sometimes all too clearly.

At one point over the summer, Davis and Farmington runners ran into each other while training on the same hill. Brower decided to move his workouts to another day, to avoid confusion.

"We haven't intentionally gotten together," he said, "but here have been a handful of times, because my kids are friends with their kids, that we've invited them to come and practice." 

Each program is slowly but surely figuring things out. 

Timothy sees a time not so far in the future where each team will have their own identity. Perhaps in time a true competition may build, stoking even better results from both squads. 

"I think when the junior highs are set up where there isn't much of a split, the kids won't really know each other that well and if we end up in the same classification and competing at the same level, I'm sure there will be a rivalry that builds," he said. 

In the meantime, two teams with new personalities will start figuring out their futures in 2018.