Published: Sept. 19, 2007 12:02 a.m. MDT

It may be a down year for cross country in Region 6, but a few of these teams might make some waves at the 4A state meet.

Defending region champion Cottonwood lost three of its top five runners from last year's squad, but star Alex Anderson and several other athletes are set to fill in the gaps and keep the Colts in contention for another region championship.

East's boys have renewed confidence this season. With a strong mix of juniors and seniors, the boys team should be Cottonwood's strongest challengers. West has the numbers to compete with any team and it has region medalist John McMinn back this season. Don't be surprised if West sneaks past East or Cottonwood for a second-place finish.

Highland and Murray have some quality runners, but graduation hit the Spartans hard and they lost their top five runners from last season. Meanwhile, Highland is on its fourth new coach in as many seasons. Olympus has a few experienced runners to lean on since the team's core group of runners are pretty green. Expect the Titans to finish in the middle of the pack.

Granger and Cyprus are having trouble fielding full teams, especially the Lancers. Granger's boys team has just a few runners on the roster.

On the girls side, defending region champion East is the clear frontrunner. Ali Stephens and Breanna Cobler will lead the way for a good but not great Leopards squad. Murray and West seem to be right behind them. Murray is led by Chelsie Summer, and West will look to region medalist Emma Sorrel to have another outstanding season.

Highland and Olympus have talent but lack the overall depth to get past the upper crust teams of East-Murray and West. Cottonwood also has more questions than answers right now. Whether the Colts can qualify for the state meet is the most obvious concern. Granger and Cyprus are hurting for runners and will be relegated to the back of the pack for that reason. With most of the marquee races in the rearview mirror, teams are gearing up for region championships and the final weeks of the season.


EAST: New coach Bill Cobler has high hopes for his boys team to improve upon its embarrassing sixth-place finish at last year's region meet. The team returns a stronger mix of seniors and juniors that includes Stefon Lesueur, Clayton Kearl, Mael Glon, Zach Zobell, Braden Emerson and Collin Griffith.

They have the numbers and the motivation to win the region, but can they make the leap from sixth place to first in one year? The girls don't have to worry about that as they are the defending region champions. What they have to worry about is staying there. Breanna Cobler and Ali Stephens are East's top runners and they'll be helped by newcomers Susannah Hurst and Madeline Gochnour. Experienced runners Madison Stephens and Mary Anderson will also contribute. The girls are young but they're the unanimous pick to repeat as region champions.

COTTONWOOD: The loss of several top runners hasn't changed the minds of many of the region coaches. They still point to Cottonwood's boys as the favorite to win the league. Juniors Alex Anderson and Chris Robinson will step to the forefront this season. Kearns transfer Elvis Machado and junior runner Travis Chambers round out the Colts top four. Both East and Cottonwood ran in last week's Murray Invitational. The Leopards had a slightly better showing, taking 15th overall, while Cottonwood finished 20th.

The girls team is going to have to fight to qualify for state this season. Katleen Nieto, Sam Werkman and Taylor Kramer are the team's top runners. They'll get help from Katie Selu and Joanna Felger. Expect the Colts, Titans and Rams to battle for fourth place in the region.

WEST: Boys region champion John McMinn returns for West and he should be the favorite to win it all again. As for the Panthers team, they have a shot to win region but they'll need some help from East and Cottonwood. Other West runners to watch out for are Charles Wise, Michael Prestgart-Duke, Tyler Strickland and Bowen Humphries. West has good depth and respect from the region coaches, so expect the Panthers to finish near the top of the region when it's all said and done.

The girls team also returns a region medalist in Emma Saarel and she'll lead the way for the Panthers this year. Hanna Moore, Kajsa Vlasick and Rachel Silverstone round out the top four girls. West should easily qualify for state and could run past Murray for second place.

MURRAY: The Spartans took second place in region last season but lost most of their runners to graduation. Preston Evans and Dakota Gray are the boys best runners. Zach Gibbs, Jayden Epperson and Jarod Anderson make up the team's top five runners. Coach Ashley McSwain admits this might be a rebuilding year but still has confidence that his team can finish the year strong by reaching the state meet. The girls team looks to be solid. Chelsie Summer, Sara Evans and Bethany Peaden make up the top three at Murray. Sophomore Sara Pickett and newcomer Savanna Gregory give the team building blocks for the future and could give the team an edge at region. If East fails to live up to their potential, Murray will be the team to beat at region.

HIGHLAND: Coach Sarah Ingebretsen takes over the Rams program this season, becoming the fourth cross country in four seasons at the east-side school. Ingebretsen is a Highland alumnus and recently graduated from BYU. This year's boys team has shown promise. Led by seniors Beau Hicken and Will Watkins, the Rams should make state. Abdi Issaq and Dave Jensen round out a solid top four.

The girls team has talent with Clara Toronto and Kate Stringfellow. Senior runner Haley Stringfellow and Lauren Hendrickson have also shown improvement this year. The girls will have a shot at qualifying for state but for now making individual improvements is the teams first goal.

OLYMPUS: The Titans are striving to make improvements but this season looks to more about rebuilding. Graduation hit the boys team and it could be a season or two until Olympus can challenge in this region. Senior Brandon Bush is a bright spot for the Titans and freshman Travis Draper has stepped up as ninth grader. Rachel Perkins and Maria Gardner will led the Olympus girls team that should finish in the middle of the pack. Ashley Bitner is also a strong runner on a team that is lacking quality depth and experience.

CYPRUS: Russell Sanders and Sean Madill will look to carry the Pirates this season. Along with Nick Roddy, Taylor Duckett and Keith Bauman, Cyprus hopes to qualify for state but face a tall order. The girls team is small but they do have a few athletes. Anna O' Bryan and BreAnn Duckett are the teams top runners.

GRANGER: The Lancers are in the same boat as Cyprus, perhaps even worse, because neither their girls nor boys teams have enough participants to legitimately compete against the rest of the region. Senior Victor Cooper is one of the top runners in the region and he's expected to have a great season for Granger. On the girls side, they'll look to Tanya Santana and Maria Ayala to carry the load for a depleted cross country team.