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South Valley Riverton Journal

Young Mountain Ridge cross country team makes strides

Dec 01, 2023 10:59AM ● By Josh McFadden

The Mountain Ridge cross country team had several runners place in the top half of the state championships this fall. (Photo courtesy James Barnes)

Among strong competition, the Mountain Ridge cross country team qualified its entire squad for the state championships and competed hard. The Sentinels finished ninth on the girls’ side, while the boys placed 13th. 

“We have a young and very inexperienced team and have a ways to go to be a state contender again, but we had a lot of athletes that performed well throughout the season, and we are excited about the future,” head coach James Barnes said.

Out of the 14 competitors at state for the Sentinels, four had never run on that stage before. Still, Mountain Ridge held its own and boasted some strong performances. The top runner for the Sentinels was Jaren Barnes, the coach’s son, who placed 49th out of all runners in Class 6A, finishing the 5k race in 16:19.9. His time was good enough for a school record. On the girls team, Cailey Bracken placed seventh at state—even while battling through a calf injury. 

“Considering that half our kids that ended up competing at state were JV kids, for various reasons, they did well, and about as expected for that,” James Barnes said. “We had higher expectations for our girls team at the beginning of the season but ended up running half of our JV as varsity, so considering that we did OK.”

Jaren Barnes was the recipient of the America First Credit Union, KJZZ and KMYU 2023 Student Athlete Scholarship. They highlighted him during the halftime show at the Mountain Ridge–Lone Peak football game on Oct. 27. He also had the opportunity to appear on TV with KUTV’s Adam Mikulich on the Sunday program “Talkin’ Sports.”

Aside from Jaren Barnes, James Barnes highlighted the performance and efforts of Nathan Burningham. Despite having never run at state before, Burningham did well and was second on the team with a time of 16:48.2. For the girls team, Bracken ran hard all season, and sophomore Brooklyn Tarr was solid, placing 23rd at state. James Barnes said, “she has a bright future.”

James Barnes is pleased with how well the team represented the school and with how hard the team members ran at state. He enjoyed coaching his son and his son’s closest friends, all of whom are seniors. The Sentinels lose other key members and will have to find some young runners to replace them. 

“We have a few good young runners coming back, but we need to build back the varsity team during the offseason,” he said. “We have a couple runners that we can build a team around, but we have to build it. They need to work on getting stronger. A lot of kids come into high school nowadays having not played many sports other than some club or rec league soccer, kids aren't as active. We get a lot of Minecraft kids, and they aren't used to physically exerting themselves, and cross country is very physically exerting. So, we need to work on strength.” Mountain Ridge runners also excelled in the classroom. Jaren Barnes, Lance Belcher, Grace Waite, Zarah Wiet and Nikki Phipps were all awarded 6A Academic All-State. This is double the amount of Academic All-State recipients any team at Mountain Ridge has had. λ