(Grayson West/Park Record) Park City senior cross-country runner Ben Saarel runs through the.

 

 

 

 

It's early in the morning and the grass is still drenched with dew. Staring down at his stopwatch, Jeff Wyant reads the numbers on his clock as they race upward. Suddenly, he looks up and his jaw drops.

 

It shouldn't, but it does.

He sees Ben Saarel obliterating the field in the team's two-mile time trial Monday morning at Willow Creek Park. "Holy cow," said the Park City High School cross-country coach. "Ben's already here."

Saarel, the two-time defending 3A state champion in cross-country, is cruising, which should come as no surprise. Now a senior, the modest, yet supreme talent has dominated the last two years racing for the Miners. Combining cross-country and track & field, he has won six individual state championships.

He flies by Wyant and the head coach calls out his time.

It is there that the head coach who has helped the Park City program reach its own level of dominance during his tenure says what most coaches never say.

"You'll never see this again in Park City," he said succinctly. "I've coached for 20 years, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

He points at Saarel, who is already a good 30 yards away and says his senior has all the makings of full-fledged star. Asked to describe what makes Saarel so special, Wyant provides some insight.

"It's everything," he said. "He's the whole package. I've said this for years, there's three things you need to be a good runner: natural ability, work ethic when nobody else is watching and race-day drive. Any two can make you good, but it takes three to make you great. Ben's got all three at a level that nobody else has."

That is hard to argue. During his sophomore year, Saarel won the boys' 1600-meter race at the Utah state track & field state championships. Later that day he participated in the boys' 3200-meter race, and took an early dominating lead. However, his stamina couldn't keep up. He went out in front too early, finishing third overall.

Wyant said that day Saarel knew how to run, but needed to learn how to race.

Since then, he has learned and he's been the talk of Utah high school cross-country. At last year's state track & field championships at Brigham Young University, members of the Cougars track team leaned on the railings and watched in awe as Saarel won the 3200-, 1600- and 800-meter races.

So now that he's a senior with more than a handful of state titles in his palm, what will he do for his final encore?

For one, he's been training in preparation for the 2012 season, which consists of running -- a lot of running.

"Things are looking good," he said. "It's a good start. My training has been going well and I haven't had anything to stop me. That's the biggest thing for me, just getting in quality training.

"My legs really feel like they're ready for the intensity in terms of mileage."

More than competing against fellow high school runners this season, Saarel faces perhaps his biggest challenge to date: picking a university to commit to, and there are plenty who'd like the Miner star to sign on their dotted line.

"I have between five and seven colleges on my list," he said, politely declining to name any in particular.

The National Signing Day is Feb. 1 and he said he'd like to have a decision made by the end of the 2012 calendar year. He said he has scheduled visits to schools on the East and West coasts as well as in the Midwest.

"It's very flattering," he said. "It's a little bit daunting because you hear about these colleges, and I think, 'They're talking to me? Really?' I'm not that fast.

"It's a great opportunity and I can't say enough about how awesome all of them have been and how supportive my family and coaches have been through this whole process."

And Saarel isn't the lone star on this year's Park City cross-country squad.

Senior Ali Walker, who has helped the girls' team win three straight 3A state team championships is crushing pavement in preparation for her senior year.

"She may be the fastest girl we've ever had in cross-country," Wyant said. "She's already very close to that in track & field. She's put in a lot of work this summer, been upwards of 50 miles a week all summer, so I think she may be the best we've ever had.

"These two (Saarel and Walker) are the best we've ever had because they do all the extra stuff. We train as a team; they go out and add on their own runs and workouts and stuff. All that extra stuff to out-do what everyone else is doing. That's what makes them so good. It's fantastic. We're really excited about this year."

Walker said she has a few schools on her wish list and said she'd like to commit to a school by the end of the cross-country season in late October.

"It's crazy," she said of the recruitment process. "Just talking to all the coaches and them knowing who I am, it's crazy. But I want to go into track season knowing where I'm going and having that pressure off my shoulders."

Pressure is something both Saarel and Walker are used to. While both are clad in state-title gold, Walker has yet to win an individual state title. She finished second in 2010 and ninth in 2011 at the state cross-country championships.

"The last three years we've won state as a team," she said. "It would be really awesome to be able to say we won state all four years. I want to win state individually, but I want it more for my team because the team is more important than the individual."

Walker said knowing Saarel is usually in the front of the pack only motivates her to get better each and every time they compete. During Monday's team time trial, Walker was passing teammates -- boys and girls -- regularly chasing who else but Saarel.

"Ben's always out front, but he doesn't take that as a sign to relax and not work hard," she said. "He works hard every day. He puts the hammer down every workout. I look up to him that way. I can't let down because I have to keep working hard if I want to stay up front."

Ironically, Saarel echoed his teammates' thoughts.

"She's incredible," he said. "I think this year is going to be her year. If she's putting in the work, I have to put in the work, too."

With Saarel and Walker leading the way for the Miners this year, high schools around the state will yet again be on alert for this dynamic duo.

And Wyant, who has coached his fair share of talents throughout his years at the helm, enters one final school year with a pair of runners he deems unparalleled.

"We've never had a guy like Ben, period," he said, "and we've never had a girl like Ali, period."

 

 

 

 

 

t's early in the morning and the grass is still drenched with dew. Staring down at his stopwatch, Jeff Wyant reads the numbers on his clock as they race upward. Suddenly, he looks up and his jaw drops.

It shouldn't, but it does.

He sees Ben Saarel obliterating the field in the team's two-mile time trial Monday morning at Willow Creek Park. "Holy cow," said the Park City High School cross-country coach. "Ben's already here."

Saarel, the two-time defending 3A state champion in cross-country, is cruising, which should come as no surprise. Now a senior, the modest, yet supreme talent has dominated the last two years racing for the Miners. Combining cross-country and track & field, he has won six individual state championships.

He flies by Wyant and the head coach calls out his time.

It is there that the head coach who has helped the Park City program reach its own level of dominance during his tenure says what most coaches never say.

"You'll never see this again in Park City," he said succinctly. "I've coached for 20 years, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

He points at Saarel, who is already a good 30 yards away and says his senior has all the makings of full-fledged star. Asked to describe what makes Saarel so special, Wyant provides some insight.

"It's everything," he said. "He's the whole package. I've said this for years, there's three things you need to be a good runner: natural ability, work ethic when nobody else is watching and race-day drive. Any two can make you good, but it takes three to make you great. Ben's got all three at a level that nobody else has."

That is hard to argue. During his sophomore year, Saarel won the boys' 1600-meter race at the Utah state track & field state championships. Later that day he participated in the boys' 3200-meter race, and took an early dominating lead. However, his stamina couldn't keep up. He went out in front too early, finishing third overall.

Wyant said that day Saarel knew how to run, but needed to learn how to race.

Since then, he has learned and he's been the talk of Utah high school cross-country. At last year's state track & field championships at Brigham Young University, members of the Cougars track team leaned on the railings and watched in awe as Saarel won the 3200-, 1600- and 800-meter races.

So now that he's a senior with more than a handful of state titles in his palm, what will he do for his final encore?

For one, he's been training in preparation for the 2012 season, which consists of running -- a lot of running.

"Things are looking good," he said. "It's a good start. My training has been going well and I haven't had anything to stop me. That's the biggest thing for me, just getting in quality training.

"My legs really feel like they're ready for the intensity in terms of mileage."

More than competing against fellow high school runners this season, Saarel faces perhaps his biggest challenge to date: picking a university to commit to, and there are plenty who'd like the Miner star to sign on their dotted line.

"I have between five and seven colleges on my list," he said, politely declining to name any in particular.

The National Signing Day is Feb. 1 and he said he'd like to have a decision made by the end of the 2012 calendar year. He said he has scheduled visits to schools on the East and West coasts as well as in the Midwest.

"It's very flattering," he said. "It's a little bit daunting because you hear about these colleges, and I think, 'They're talking to me? Really?' I'm not that fast.

"It's a great opportunity and I can't say enough about how awesome all of them have been and how supportive my family and coaches have been through this whole process."

And Saarel isn't the lone star on this year's Park City cross-country squad.

Senior Ali Walker, who has helped the girls' team win three straight 3A state team championships is crushing pavement in preparation for her senior year.

"She may be the fastest girl we've ever had in cross-country," Wyant said. "She's already very close to that in track & field. She's put in a lot of work this summer, been upwards of 50 miles a week all summer, so I think she may be the best we've ever had.

"These two (Saarel and Walker) are the best we've ever had because they do all the extra stuff. We train as a team; they go out and add on their own runs and workouts and stuff. All that extra stuff to out-do what everyone else is doing. That's what makes them so good. It's fantastic. We're really excited about this year."

Walker said she has a few schools on her wish list and said she'd like to commit to a school by the end of the cross-country season in late October.

"It's crazy," she said of the recruitment process. "Just talking to all the coaches and them knowing who I am, it's crazy. But I want to go into track season knowing where I'm going and having that pressure off my shoulders."

Pressure is something both Saarel and Walker are used to. While both are clad in state-title gold, Walker has yet to win an individual state title. She finished second in 2010 and ninth in 2011 at the state cross-country championships.

"The last three years we've won state as a team," she said. "It would be really awesome to be able to say we won state all four years. I want to win state individually, but I want it more for my team because the team is more important than the individual."

Walker said knowing Saarel is usually in the front of the pack only motivates her to get better each and every time they compete. During Monday's team time trial, Walker was passing teammates -- boys and girls -- regularly chasing who else but Saarel.

"Ben's always out front, but he doesn't take that as a sign to relax and not work hard," she said. "He works hard every day. He puts the hammer down every workout. I look up to him that way. I can't let down because I have to keep working hard if I want to stay up front."

Ironically, Saarel echoed his teammates' thoughts.

"She's incredible," he said. "I think this year is going to be her year. If she's putting in the work, I have to put in the work, too."

With Saarel and Walker leading the way for the Miners this year, high schools around the state will yet again be on alert for this dynamic duo.

And Wyant, who has coached his fair share of talents throughout his years at the helm, enters one final school year with a pair of runners he deems unparalleled.

"We've never had a guy like Ben, period," he said, "and we've never had a girl like Ali, period."