Idaho State XC Preview: 1A/2A

It's state championship week in Idaho. Teams from across the state will meet in Pocatello at the Portneuf Wellness Complex for the right to be named individual and team cross country champions on Friday and Saturday, October 30 and 31.

For those that cannot attend due to COVID-19 restrictions, here is a look at what to watch for in the 1A and 2A races on Saturday.

Raft River's Kaybree Christensen, Salmon Johnathon Simmons, Wendell's Jessica Duran, and Liberty Charter's Connor Gardner.

2A Boys

Race Time: 12:15 p.m. (MST)

Individuals To Watch For: Johnathon Simmons (Salmon), Grady Mylander (Nampa Christian), Daniel Simmons (Salmon), Josh Leavitt (Melba), Garrett Christensen (Valley)

Teams To Watch For: Salmon, Soda Springs, Cole Valley Christian, Melba

Here's The Run Down:

- Since winning the 2A team title in 2018, Salmon has established itself as a highly competitive program across all divisions in Idaho. The Savages have been ranked as high as seventh in The Runner WA's Idaho Power Rankings which includes the majority of the 5A/4A teams. Johnathon Simmons continues to lead this team in the right direction, and with his freshman brother Daniel joining the team, Salmon becomes an even more talented team than the previous ones who brought home state titles. At this point, I believe Salmon is the clear favorite. But the fight for second will be very close with Soda Springs and Cole Valley Christian neck and neck. The Chargers have a solid one-two punch and fifth runner, but the Cardinals five-man spread is 12 seconds faster at 44.5 seconds.

The story going into this race will focus on the individuals as Salmon's Johnathon Simmons reigns as the defending state champion, while Nampa Christian's Grady Mylander comes in with the fastest 5k time at the 2A division running 15:32.3. Mylander and Simmons have faced each other only one time this season early on at the Tiger/Grizz Invite. Mylander took the lead over Simmons with under 600 meters to go and appeared to be well on his way to taking the win. However, Simmons was able to find another gear with 400 meters to go and stride right past Mylander, winning the race by six seconds. Daniel Simmons isn't out of the question either to compete for a state title, but between his experience and his older brother's and Mylander's, this might not be the year he wins it.

The Runner WA's Individual Pick: Grady Mylander

- Since placing second to Simmons at the Tiger/Grizz Invite, Mylander has been on a tear as of late winning five consecutive races and running the second-fastest time in all of Idaho. This should be one for the books.

The Runner WA's Team Pick: Salmon

- The Savages continue their winning ways on Saturday coming away with a third title. Their varsity seven are ranked in the top 20 individually, so perhaps each of them gets a spot on the podium this year.

2A Girls

Race Time: 11:30 a.m. (MST)

Individuals To Watch For: Jessica Duran (Wendell), Aubrie Barzee (West Side), Elise Kelsey (Bear Lake), Cameron Moore (Ambrose School), Brooklyn Dayley (Melba)

Teams To Watch For: Soda Springs, Salmon, Bear Lake, Melba

Here's The Run Down:

- Soda Springs continues to grow its historic dynasty year in and year out. The Cardinals have made it known they are the greatest program in all of Idaho, regardless of classifications, winning 14 consecutive state team titles. Yes, you read that correctly; 14 straight state championships. Even as the best team heading into Saturday's race, two other schools are trailing not too far behind in Salmon and Bear Lake. Separating by 10 points in the hypothetical meet, this will be the Cardinals' toughest test to win another title. In all the meetings between these three schools this season, Bear Lake has been the closest to defeating Soda Springs, specifically the closest one being a four-point difference at the Pirate Challenge in September.

Wendell's Jessica Duran has had quite the turnaround season in her sophomore campaign. From finishing 17th at state as a freshman to compiling an undefeated record and the fastest time in 2A at 18:43.6 as a sophomore, Duran heads into Pocatello as a clear favorite to win her first individual state title. But, trailing Duran ranked second through fourth are West Side's Aubrie Barzee, Bear Lake's Elise Kelsey, and the Ambrose School's Cameron Moore. Between these three girls, they are eight seconds apart with the fastest being freshman Barzee running a personal best 19:12.7. If none of these girls are able to catch up with Duran for the first half of the race, or perhaps compete with her the entire time, the battle for second place is going to be a close one at the finish.

The Runner WA's Individual Pick: Jessica Duran

- Because she hasn't lost a race since last year, Duran's mindset is whatever it takes to win. The bottom line is I think she is pretty confident going into Saturday's race and should enjoy this moment.

The Runner WA's Team Pick: Soda Springs

- At the end of the day, I don't know if teams like Bear Lake or Salmon can beat Soda Springs. Not just because of the talent or depth they have, but how they mentally approach it. It's tough to think you can beat a school that has won 14 straight state titles.

1A Boys

Race Time: 9:45 a.m. (MST)

Individuals To Watch For: Connor Gardner (Liberty Charter), Ian Stockett (Victory Charter), Cole Wilkerson (Grace), Carson Sellers (Timberline-Weippe), Jase Elmore (Logos)

Teams To Watch For: Victory Charter, Logos, Liberty Charter, Grace

Here's The Run Down:

- Liberty Charter has been a great team in the last few seasons, winning three state titles as a program. This hasn't been the exact season that Liberty Charter has had in year's past, which then opens the door for another team to take over at No. 1. On paper, Victory Charter is the best team out of the 1A with all seven runners under 18 minutes for a 5k and each is ranked in the top 20 individually led by Ian and Luke Stockett. In their latest meeting, Victory Charter blew away Liberty Charter by 100 points to win the Winston Tilzey Invite title. Logos is another team on paper that has done better than Liberty Charter and they have a solid duo in Jase Elmore and Alex Blum.

Liberty Charter's Connor Gardner and Victory Charter's Ian Stockett have faced each other three times this year with Gardner taking two of their races at the Eagle Island Invite and the Winston Tilzey Invite. Last week's district race came down to a photo finish and went in favor of Stockett by three-tenths of a second. This now becomes a mental game for Gardner going into Saturday's race. How much of a factor will this be? Since Stockett won this recent race, this gives him the most confidence between him and Gardner. Besides these two, Grace's Cole Wilkerson, Timberline's Carson Sellers, and Logos Elmore and Blum are all right within each other to take that third spot on the podium.

The Runner WA's Individual Pick: Ian Stockett

- The mental game is a big deal when it comes to the state championship. But what is most important is who has the most guts and heart. It's a toss-up, and I usually go with the veteran, but Stockett has the chance to do two great things; win an individual state title and lead the Vipers to the school's first team title.

The Runner WA's Team Pick: Victory Charter

- The Vipers have a good squad this year, and it's all because of their second through fifth guys. That's a close bunch as they are 20 seconds from each other. Ian Stockett winning the individual title would be the icing on the cake for this team.

1A Girls

Race Time: 9:00 a.m. (MST)

Individuals To Watch For: Kaybree Christensen (Raft River), Karlee Christensen (Raft River), Natalya Babcock (Butte County), Allie Black (Raft River), Clara Anderson (Logos)

Teams To Watch For: Raft River, Victory Charter, Logos, Oakley

Here's The Run Down:

- It's been an exciting season for the Raft River girls. Establishing their first full team since 1999, the Trojans have become the big surprise this fall as the top team heading into the state championship with five new underclassmen joining the program. Raft River may not be the most experienced group but they do have the best duo of 1A runners in twins Kaybree and Karlee Christensen, both of which will compete for the state individual title. Raft River might be ahead in the hypothetical standings as of now, but Victory Charter, Logos, and back-to-back team champion Oakley are not too far off from contending. Between Victory, Logos, and Oakley, 13 points separate them based on their personal best marks this season.

Both Christensen twins are the top two favorites, but Butte County's Natalya Babcock isn't out of the question to win a state title. Both Kaybree and Babcock have in fact each won an individual title in the previous state meets as Babcock won it as a freshman in 2017 and Kaybree won it as a sophomore in her first year running in 2018. These two haven't faced each other since the Tiger/Grizz Invite where Kaybree placed higher than Babcock. The big surprise of the meet might be coming from Kaybree's twin Karlee. She's been very consistent this season and has shown tons of growth as a runner over the course of the year. Another runner to watch for from Raft River is Allie Black, a talented freshman who just started running for the first time this year.

The Runner WA's Individual Pick: Kaybree Christensen

- The Utah State commit is ready for a bounce-back state meet after placing second last season. It might be a toss-up between Kaybree and her sister, but after discussing with Kaybree a week ago about this race, she feels there is redemption to be made from last years second place finish.

The Runner WA's Team Pick: Raft River

- Every 1A team they have faced this season, Raft River has been on the front end. This team is the real deal and they will win their first ever state cross country team title in program history after a 21 year absence.


For more information on the 2020 ISHAA State Cross Country Championships, click here.

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