* Daniel Simmons holding up his national Player of the Year trophy last year
Photo Credit: Gatorade
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Six points clear, and one crazy ending.
The final race of the day did not disappoint on Tuesday at the Utah State Cross Country Championships, as No. 2 American Fork put together its strongest performance of the season to down No. 1 Herriman 33-39 in a state championship battle between the nation's top two teams at Regional Athletic Park in Salt Lake City.
The Cavemen, claiming their 11th title in school history and second straight since 2022, couldn't have run any better.
Then again, Herriman did not run poorly, either.
The difference, then, was two things: American Fork landed the race's top three placements between Daniel Simmons, Kaden Evans and Chase Pack -- which gave them breathing room and six points; while the next difference-maker was the knock-out blow placement in eighth, which ultimately put AF 13 points clear of Herriman through four runners.
Herriman countered with finishes of fifth, sixth and seventh and then ninth and 12th, but it wasn't enough. As the points added up, the difference became too great.
Senior Ben Jaster closed off the scoring in 20th (19th in terms of points scoring) and locked in 33 points.
"The boys had a plan and they raced their plan," American Fork head coach Timo Mostert told the Deseret News after the race. "When you work hard, good things happen. Give Herriman all the credit, their boys raced phenomenally today too, it's been a battle all year. I'm just grateful we had the opportunity to come out on top today."
American Fork finished with a 5K average of 15:14 and a speed rating average of 184.2 -- the highest of the year nationally -- while Herriman followed with a performance of 15:25 and 181, which was their best performance on the season, too.
It was still an improvement on last season's state finish for Herriman (fourth), but perhaps off what the team had hoped.
Lone Peak, meanwhile, finished third with 95 points, putting Riverton in fourth with 146 points. The five fastest teams across all divisions were American Fork (15:14), Herriman (15:25), Lone Peak (15:41), Orem (15:53) and Mountain View (15:56).
Mountain View and Orem had their own little tussle in Class 4A. While Orem finished with a faster average, it was Mountain View which ultimately won the day, winning on the sixth runner after both teams scored 56 points.
The final finish came down to Mountain View's Wes Peterson, a sophomore, who was 27th overall and finished in 16:32.4. Orem's sixth fell to 40th overall.
American Fork's Simmons ran the fastest time on the day, clocking his second straight win in Utah with a time of 14:44.00. He told KSL.com afterward that he threw down ridiculous splits over his first two miles -- 4:52.9 and 4:50.3 -- because he wanted to race as if he was being out-classed at the front.
"I knew I wasn't here to just win," the BYU commit told the outlet. "I wanted to come out here and put my soul into the race, put my heart into the time, and put out my best effort. That would make me feel the best after the race, to feel happy and excited."
Olympus' JoJo Jourdon won Class 5A with the second-fastest output on Tuesday in a time of 14:58.3, while Orem's Austin Westfall earned some consolation with his win in Class 4A in 15:00.10.
Hedengren Pulls Away, Lone Peak Secures 6A Title
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There was a little less drama in the girls races, as expectations largely played out into reality.
Timpview's Jane Hedengren, currently the No. 1 ranked runner in the United States, won Class 5A with the fastest time of the day in 17:14.70, while Lone Peak, led by lead runner Andie Aagard, claimed the 6A title and helped her squad take down American Fork in the team standings with a nail-in-the-coffin 19 points -- just four points away from a perfect score.
Aagard ran 17:25.9. American Fork's Avalon Mecham was second in 17:38.4.