American Fork • With three consecutive Class 5A cross-country titles, the American Fork boys cross-country team is well-known as being among Utah's elite.
With a third consecutive championship at the Southwest Regionals and a sixth-place finish their highest ever at the Nike Cross Nationals, the Cavemen are on the map as one of the elite cross-country programs in the United States.
"At the beginning of cross-country season, there were 14,000 teams across the United States and for us to finish as the sixth best team, that's pretty incredible," said American Fork coach Timo Mostert.
Before the national meet, 5A state champion Mack Morrison suffered a bone contusion to his foot. Doctors said the contusion was caught just before it would have become a stress fracture. Although Morrison rode an exercise bike and swam to keep in shape for the national meet, he finished as the seventh man for American Fork.
"I think everybody was bummed for Mack," said Caveman senior Clayton Young. "I saw him at the 800-meter mark of the race and said, 'Let's just move up together,' but that's the last time I saw him in the race."
Despite the injury, the Cavemen had their highest finish ever at a national meet after finishing eighth and ninth in 2009 and 2010.
Entering the season, the Cavemen had some huge graduation losses to fill, and Young said he never anticipated such a strong showing.
"After losing five seniors from last year's team, I was a little surprised that we did as well as we did this year," he said.
The Cavemen, indeed, had another stellar season. At the 5A state meet in October, American Fork won its third consecutive state title, outpointing Davis 25-33. At the Southwest regionals in late November, the Cavemen once again outpointed Davis 45-76 to claim their third straight regional title.
Mostert paid tribute to a Davis team that finished third best in the nation, and said the performance says something about high-school running in Utah.
"With a state that has a population of just 2.8 million, it's pretty incredible to have two teams in the top six," he said. "I think we have a lot of really, really good coaches here that have good training programs that kids buy into that ultimately is what's driving us to perform at the regional and national competition."
Young and Morrison have been part of the Cavemen running machine for four seasons, and Mostert said their impact on the program has been immeasurable.
"Clayton and Mack have both been running varsity for four years and that's pretty unusual in itself," he said. "They just came in at the right time, kept on getting better and have been a real joy to work with."
Cavemen find success in 2011
Despite an injury to 5A champion Mack Morrison, the American Fork cross-country team had its highest finish ever, placing sixth at the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon on Saturday.
Cavemen senior Clayton Young finished 24th in the national championship race on Saturday, one of the highest finishes ever by a Utahn.
Look for big things from Caveman junior Brayden McLellend. The junior was fourth at the state meet and finished just behind Young at the national meet.