Prep male athlete of the year: Park City's Ben Saarel
It's not his style to hype up himself before the starter pistol goes off. There is too much to think about before leaving the starting line to get distracted with emotions.
Park City's Ben Saarel is focused in being in the moment, thinking of his pace and matching his sensory data into his game plan.
It's how he runs, and it has paid off in incredible dividends for the champion bound for the University of Colorado.
He has decimated state records in the 800 meters with a time of 1 minute, 51.13 seconds and the 1,600 (4:07.95). He capped the trifecta with a personal best of 8:45.74 in the 3,200. The state records in all three events are his, with the 1,600 record coming at the state track meet in May.
His finest race came against the best prep runners in the nation at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York City in May. What would be a high-water mark for any runner is nothing more than icing on the cake for Saarel. He pushed through the pain and adrenaline to best the field in the mile by crossing the line in 4:02.72 despite a 25-mph headwind.
"I finished my high school career beautifully," Saarel said. "Under different conditions, I think I could have broken the 4-minute mile, but I couldn't have asked for a better race."
Saarel started his senior year in style. He won the Class 3A state cross-country championship in 14:56.7, which was more than 30 seconds better than the second-place finisher. It was his third consecutive cross-country state title.
As Utah's most accomplished runner leaves for the Pac-12 in Boulder, he has his eyes on two new goals: pursue a degree in engineering physics and continue to develop into the best runner possible.
"Training is everything," Saarel said. "Nothing shows where you've been and where you go than your training. Even if you have a bad day, you need to wake up and get back at it. There's no other way to be successful."
Saarel's talent and dedication never have been challenged. Park City coach Jeff Wyant said Saarel has the discipline to challenge any record and even qualify for the Olympic team.
"Ben is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete," Wyant said. "Clearly he is the fastest runner to come out of Utah in a long time, and Utah is a runner's state."
Eric Mika, Lone Peak • Senior helped lead the Knights basketball team to state and national titles, then helped the lacrosse team reach the state title game.
Austin Kafentzis, Jordan • Sophomore quarterbacked football team to state title and national ranking then added the Class 5A javelin state title to his haul.
Faimafili Laulu-Pututau, Mountain Crest • Senior, who will play football at BYU, led football team and basketball team to state title games.