Monticello High 2020 sports year in review

In this issue of the Record we’re looking back at the 2020 high school sports year for all the teams in San Juan County. In this story we feature the Monticello High School Buckaroos.

Due to COVID-19, the Monticello football team had their first three games of the season cancelled. That left the Bucks scrambling to find opponents.

It also meant Monticello’s first two games were against the Kanab Cowboys – the team that eliminated them from the 2019 playoffs – and the 3A San Juan Broncos. 

Clearly overmatched, the Bucks dropped those games 70-0 and 60-0. Those early defeats sent the team into a tailspin as they dropped games to Gunnison Valley 47-12, Millard 55-6, and Duchesne 60-6.

It wasn’t until Monticello traveled to 3A Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City on September 25 that they showed any sign of life.

In that game, the Bucks played hard and had their chances to win but were unable to score late in the game and lost narrowly to the home team 21-13.

However, even in another loss, the team showed some fight and the apparent desire to get a win. After another tough loss at home against North Summit 45-7, Monticello closed the regular season with two straight wins against Layton Christian 21-20 and Rich 42-19. 

The victories propelled the team to a fourth place finish in the 2A North and earned them a playoff game in Milford against the 2A South fourth place Tigers.

Milford dominated from start to finish though, and Monticello dropped their second straight first-round playoff game 59-6 to end the year with a 2-8 record.

One has to wonder what would’ve happened if COVID-19 hadn’t interfered with the season and the Bucks had a more manageable start before wading into a tough region schedule.

But that is conjecture at this point. It was very fortunate Monticello was able to navigate the pandemic and get a season in at all, so it’s all a matter of perspective.

Hopefully the 2021 season will be free of COVID and allow the team to play a more manageable schedule and get the team back to their winning ways they enjoyed earlier in the 2000s when they were contending for and winning state titles.

Arguably, the MHS volleyball team was hit the hardest by COVID-19. With a young team, Coach Tony Esplin was hoping his girls in 2020 could improve on the 12-12 finish of the previous season.

But the virus restricted the team’s ability to attend a volleyball camp this summer and get crucial experience before jumping into regular season play.

It’s hard to say how much the girls were affected, but the team seemed to struggle all year to find any rhythm, managing only early season wins against 1A Green River.

Besieged by severe roster disruption late in the season, the Lady Bucks limped to a fourth place Region 16 finish and an RPI ranking of 16 with a 6-15 overall record.

But COVID-19 delivered one final cruel blow as the team was unable to accept and play in the 2A state tournament when the team was forced to quarantine after some of their players had direct exposure to the virus.

Sadly, seniors Whitney Knudsen, Ellie Nielson, and Saydee Adams weren’t able to finish the season on the court. On the bright side, Monticello has a core of young players who got some valuable varsity experience at the end of this season as they were pressed into service.

Better days are ahead for Monticello volleyball and, we hope, for the country besieged by this pandemic.

The Monticello golf team was likely the least effected team by COVID-19 restrictions. No matches were cancelled or even rescheduled, nor were any golfers sidelined by the virus or put into quarantine.

After finishing fourth in Region 16 for the second year in a row, the Monticello boys qualified for state and finished ninth overall after missing the first-day cut.

This appeared to be a step back after they finished seventh at last year’s state tournament, but if not for a scoring issue, Monticello would have qualified for day two with their chances of finishing higher than seventh place a real possibility.

Hopefully the disappointment of the abrupt end to 2020 will motivate the team. The Buckaroos will return nearly their entire roster in 2021 minus one graduate, Corey Bunker.

Monticello returns three top-ten region golfers: Boston Freestone (second), Bailey Walker (third), and Breckyn Hoggard (sixth), as well as Alec Christiansen, Garrett Larsen, and Darren Westcott, all of whom made great improvements from the start of the season to the end.

If the team can build on their successful 2020 season and work hard over the summer, they can certainly improve and contend at state in 2021.

Cross country
The outbreak of COVID-19 certainly affected the Monticello cross country teams as coaches were seemingly scrambling all year to find races for the teams to run.

Before the season began Monticello was notified that they were not welcome to attend any races in Colorado, which eliminated a significant number of regular season races. That meant races at Durango, Pagosa Springs, Mancos, and Cortez would have to be replaced.

Other Utah races, like the BYU Invitational that gives runners a chance to race against some of the best in the state, were scrapped entirely this year. Meaningful races are the lifeblood of building confidence in cross country runners and these missed chances can’t be replaced.

Therefore, Monticello had to rely on mainly its Region 16 races and some local races to fill the gaps. Fortunately, the Bucks were able to attend larger races in Heber City in September and Cedar City in October.

The Heber City race was held at Soldier Hollow, the site of the 3A, 5A, and 6A state championships. And the Cedar City race, the site of this year’s state championships for 1A, 2A, and 4A schools, gave the teams a chance to see the state course.

The Monticello teams made the most of running these races. Adri Bird and Lily Long ran well, placing ninth and 40th in their race at the Wasatch Invitational and 26th and 125th overall against Utah girls from all six classes in the four varsity races held.

The boys also ran well in Heber City with Alan Pettit and Corey Bunker placing 14th and 16th in their race and 50th and 57th overall against the best talent in the state from all classes.

At Cedar City, Lily Long placed 53rd in the girls varsity race and Corey Bunker and Alan Pettit finished 13th and 33rd overall. The race set the team up for a nice state meet.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions in Salt Lake County, the 2020 Utah State Cross Country Championships, which are usually held at Sugarhouse Park were moved to Heber City and Cedar City as mentioned above.

Coming into the state meet, the boys were hoping to improve on last season’s third place state finish and individually Seniors Corey Bunker and Alan Pettit were hoping to improve on third and fifth place finishes.

The boys both ran well at state. Bunker finished third for the second straight year and Pettit came home sixth. The team placed fourth overall behind Millard, Rowland Hall, and North Summit.

The scoring runners for Monticello were senior Eric Montague who finished 17th, freshman Jesse Pettit who placed 34th, and freshman Josh Wheeler who finished in 37th place.

The girls also hoped to improve on their fourth place state finish last year, but the loss of a key runner to COVID-19 set the team back.

Individually, sophomore Adri Bird hoped to improve on her state runner-up finish and junior Lily Long was trying to best her eighth place finish at state last year.

Bird came in third this season and Long moved up a spot to seventh overall. The team once again placed fourth behind Millard, North Summit, and Parowan. Scoring Lady Buckaroos were senior Serra St. Clair in 30th, freshman Shannon Morrison in 53rd place, and freshman Hailey Gillette who came in 61st overall.

The future is bright for the girls, who return three of five state runners and welcome a class of talented freshmen in 2021. The boys, lose a lot of upper classman talent, but the team has a number of good young runners to build on in the coming years.

Hopefully the 2021 cross country season will allow the teams to get back to normal and run many of the races that were missed in 2020. Despite the cancellations, the teams was definitely grateful that they had a full season and were able to complete it with little disruption.

The basketball season is barely a month old and so far the Monticello girls have opened the season with a 1-4 record. Their lone win came over Grand County on December 3. The Monticello boys also have a 1-4 record to open the year with their lone win against Green River on December 8.

Both teams commence Region 16 play this Friday, January 8 when the Lady Bucks travel to Duchesne to face the Lady Eagles and the boys take a bus to Coalville to face the North Summit Braves.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday