Athletics News

team in park

Carson Burian led a young cross-country team to a Region 17 title last fall, and he's not slowing down. Read about his training methods, goals, and why he thinks 2019 will be his best year yet.

Running can be a lonely sport, particularly for high school athletes pursuing an advanced career. Rowland Hall's cross-country and track and field coach Mark Oftedal knows the situation all too well, having watched his son Eli—a 2015 alum and elite runner who now races for Colorado State University—endure many solitary training sessions. So when he met Carson Burian last fall, Mr. Oftedal recognized what the talented young runner was facing. "I told him, 'You're in a difficult situation, at a small school with a small team, training at your level.' I knew he would be off on his own quite frequently."

Indeed, Carson has experienced just that: long miles on the road alone, when he focuses on long-term goals—such as running in college—to stay motivated. This past summer, he logged between 60–65 miles most weeks, often training in Park City to escape the heat and ozone in the valley. The sophomore, who individually placed first at this year's Region Championship and third at the 2A State meet, used to play up to six sports. He didn't take running all that seriously when he joined the Middle School cross-country team, but after winning every race in his eighth-grade division, he realized that the sport might hold a future for him. Now, he trains year-round for races, competes in cross country and track, and supplements his running with weight lifting—and the occasional ski day, like many Utahns.

Mr. Oftedal described Carson as an intense, determined young athlete who does his research before races and sets realistic goals for himself. While he's competitive, Carson will never bad-mouth his competition—in fact, he wants to race against the best in the field, making a potential victory that much sweeter. "He wants to bring himself to and beyond the level of the people in front of him," Mr. Oftedal said. And since he's racing against juniors and seniors, he oftentimes has to be patient with himself. Carson can be philosophical about his performance, especially if he's not feeling in peak physical or mental condition on race day. "I still try to run the best race I can," he said, "and though I may be disappointed with my time, I'll usually understand why."

Mr. Oftedal described Carson as an intense, determined young athlete who does his research before races and sets realistic goals for himself. While he's competitive, Carson will never bad-mouth his competition—in fact, he wants to race against the best in the field, making a potential victory that much sweeter.For a young runner, Carson has already developed a balanced regimen of nutrition, sleep, hydration, and workouts. He's learned to listen to his body, and knows that adjusting his pace by five seconds will allow him to push through several more miles instead of hitting a wall. Much of his growth stems from intense training and research, both at Rowland Hall and elsewhere—he attended a running camp at Northern Arizona University this summer, which he credited with giving him an extra boost of motivation during the hottest months of the year. But Carson has also been forced to adapt at times due to injury: last December, he strained ligaments in his foot two days before a race, and then batted through ongoing pain at the start of the track season because he hadn't healed properly. Thankfully, he's stayed healthy since, and says he's hoping to shave another 20–25 seconds off his mile next spring.

Carson's talent and mindset are only part of what makes him a special athlete. His individual performances certainly help the team at race time, but his sportsmanship and leadership help everyone persevere through tough practices. He understands the importance of being a good teammate, and said he'll give others encouragement when they might be struggling, sometimes simply by running alongside them. "It's all about trying to create positivity within the group," he said.

That's a strategy Mr. Oftedal and his assistant coaches, Laura Johnson and Giselle Slotboom, often employ during races too. "We try to give runners cues, and so if someone is having a rough time we'll ask their peer to join up with them and give them a boost." In fact, the camaraderie Mr. Oftedal saw in this fall's cross-country team is one of the things that pleased him most: even with varying levels of ability and experience among the group, they were often running together at practice and training together outside of school.

Carson's dedicated approach to conditioning and wellness has rubbed off on his peers, according to Mr. Oftedal. "Anytime you've got kids that are pushing at the top, it's going to positively influence others." He noticed students comparing their patterns and choices to Carson's, and then emulating his habits or characteristics. "They realize it's not just about showing up for practice and putting in the miles. It's a lifestyle decision."

Mr. Oftedal was quick to add, "It's a gain for Carson, too," as he can find inspiration watching his teammates make huge improvements, and they encourage his growth in return.

This year's cross-country team was a young group, led by sophomores and juniors, which Mr. Oftedal and Carson find exciting. Their achievements included Region 17 titles for both the girls and boys teams, and a third-place finish for the boys at the 2A State Championship—only one point behind the second-place team. With no one on the boys varsity team graduating in 2019, Carson believes the top spot in the state will soon be within reach.

A successful season for me is when I meet these kids years down the line and they're still running—still finding joy in competing, or just running for themselves. —Coach Mark Oftedal

Carson's future, as well as the team's future, is undoubtedly bright, but Mr. Oftedal doesn't necessarily measure success in terms of championships. He recently heard from the parents of a 2012 alum that their son is training for a marathon, and that news is just as satisfying to Mr. Oftedal as any state title. "A successful season for me is when I meet these kids years down the line and they're still running—still finding joy in competing, or just running for themselves," he said.

And if they still hear Coach Oftedal's or a teammate's voice encouraging them to push through training sessions, well, that might just make the runner's life a little less lonely after all.


Volleyball Team Gets Visit from Former Olympian

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our volleyball team who was treated to a visit in late September by former National NCAA Division I champion and two-time USA Olympic Volleyball athlete and medalist, Courtney Thompson.


Courtney, as a Co-Founder of the nonprofit Give It Back Foundation, has always understood the concept of team. Named team captain of the University of Washington women's volleyball team as a freshman, Courtney held this title throughout her 4-year career, while also leading the Huskies to an NCAA Division I National Championship in 2005. Post college, Thompson proudly represented USA Volleyball, winning a gold medal at the World Championships in Italy (2014), an Olympic silver medal in London (2012), and an Olympic bronze medal in Rio (2016), serving as team captain from 2013-2016. Having worked with Dr. Gervais while competing on the USA team, she has lived through the process of changing a culture and understands how and why it starts with each individual's mindset. She brings this experience, as well as her drive to make those around her better, to her work with Compete to Create.

Courtney spent an hour with the volleyball team, talking to them about her personal experience with high school, college, and Olympic athletic competition, sharing with us some of the difficulties and roadblocks she faced as she worked toward her Olympic dream, focusing on encouraging our players to follow their dreams in all areas of their life despite inevitable setbacks and obstacles, urging them to always use positive self-talk and maintain a positive mindset to work their way through adversity. It was a very interesting and motivating conversation for all.

The team was treated to being able to not only see but to hold and wear Courtney's Olympic silver and bronze medals! It was an afternoon that none of them will soon forget. Thanks to Sarah Lehman for offering this opportunity to the team.




Girls Soccer Wins Third State Title in Five Years


Congratulations to our girls soccer team for a decisive victory over rival Waterford in the 2A State Championship game on Saturday, October 19, at Rio Tinto Stadium. The group was also recognized Saturday for having the highest team GPA in their division.


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Rowland Hall Wins Award for Success in Sportsmanship, School, State Tourneys
Rowland Hall on June 18, 2018, won its first 2A Directors Cup, awarded annually by the Utah Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (UIAAA) for success in sportsmanship, academics, and state tournaments.


Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic called the achievement a prestigious one. "It's quite an honor for our Athletics program, our coaches, and the school," she said. "We've been in the top five every year of this award's existence, but this is the first year that we have been named the top 2A school." This is the eighth year of the Directors Cup.

Kendra praised her dedicated coaches and hardworking student-athletes, but also deserves some of the credit: she's known as a tireless advocate for Rowland Hall Athletics, and she inspires Winged Lions to play with integrity and have fun in the process. Kendra has worked for the school since 1992, and in 2013 won a national award for her outstanding contributions to interscholastic athletics.

State championships bolstered Rowland Hall's Directors Cup ranking this year. Winged Lion highlights at the state level included the 2A title for girls soccer, the 3A 1st singles tennis title for senior Katie Foley, the 2A third-place spot for boys golf, the 3A title for girls swimming, the 2A title for boys tennis, the 2A title for girls golf, and the 2A runner-up trophy for boys soccer.

The description of the Directors Cup, from UIAAA:

The "Directors Cup" is awarded to the school achieving the highest cumulative point total in each classification based on state tournament results in all sports (boys and girls) and the successful implementation of the "Raise The Bar" sportsmanship initiative. The top 16 teams in each sport and classification received points based on how their teams finished in the UHSAA State Championship events. (This counts for 40% of the Directors Cup Total.) Each school may also submit their respective team GPAs to the UIAAA. The top 16 teams in each sport and classification received points based on how their team's GPA rank compared to other schools in their classification. (This counts for 40% of the Directors Cup Total.) Every school regardless of team GPAs or how it placed in any State Tournament can also receive points from the successful implementation of the "Raise The Bar" sportsmanship initiative.

The top-five ranked schools in 2A:

  1. Rowland Hall: 16.8 points
  2. Gunnison: 12.6 points
  3. Kanab: 10.8 points
  4. North Summit: 10.1 points
  5. Beaver: 9.4 points

Rowland Hall's score also amounted to the highest point total among all classifications in the state. In the 6A classification, Bingham was a close second, with 16.7 points.


Middle School Sports Roundup, Spring 2018


Middle School Sports Roundup, Spring 2018

It was a great spring season for Middle School Athletics. Thanks to all of our players for their dedication, and thanks to their families for their support throughout the season. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated group of coaches who continue to invest countless hours to develop our student-athletes. Additionally, I'd like to thank our Middle School Boosters for providing every athlete with a sport-specific T-shirt to show our school spirit. A huge shout out to Melanie Bates, Ashley Holbrook, and Erica Keil for representing Middle School Athletics. We will miss you! Read below for a recap of each team's season. —Shannon Casson


Girls A Soccer
Coaches Bobby Kennedy & Campbell Ainsworth

The girls soccer teams had a fantastic season. The A2 team improved throughout the year. Not only did their individual skills improve, but they learned how to work as a team and became stronger with a more cohesive attack and defense. They had a good season and played hard against tough competition. The A1 team finished the season undefeated and won the WAC tournament, yet the road was not always easy. Twice during the regular season, they were losing by two goals at halftime, yet they were undaunted and came roaring back to win both games with inspired second halves. The WAC tournament was tense, with both games at 0-0 until late goals by Maddie Carlin spurred the Winged Lions to victory. A special shout-out to the defense and goalkeeper Micha Nenbee who had six shutouts this year. The team never gave up all year, and though they rarely had any substitutes, their hustle and positive attitude made this a memorable season. Go Winged Lions!

Cross Country
Coaches Mary Lawlor, Chelsea Vasquez, Sam Lawlor

What a season for this dynamic group of sixth- through eighth-grade racers! It's been quite an experience running through the 9th and 9th business district with over 50 Middle School runners. Each of the six meets was held in a different location along the Wasatch Front. We competed against the same nine schools at every meet. The season began with the girls battling Saint John the Baptist and the boys went head-to-head with McGillis, St. Joe's, and SJTB. Towards the end of the season, it became obvious that every runner needed to give their best effort in order to accumulate the points to win each meet, and the most possible meet wins to finish first for the 2018 season. The last two meets in Draper and Layton included dramatic finishes for every age group. Rowland Hall earned first place for both the A Team (seventh and eighth grade) girls and boys. The C Team (sixth grade) girls earned a third-place season finish, and the C Team boys brought home a fourth-place finish. Special shout-outs to our top A-Team runners: Will Cunningham (seventh) and Jasmine Le (seventh). We are already looking forward to next season with this special group of runners.

Mountain Biking
Coaches Jen Schones, Chelsea Vasquez

Despite a few meetups being foiled by rain or thunder, we enjoyed beautiful days of Park City pedaling with our awesome group of bikers. We had a mix of skill levels this year, ranging from never-evers to cross-country mountain bike racers. Needless to say, this kept our ride sessions exciting and allowed students to teach each other. We have loved learning from (and trying to keep up with!) the more advanced riders while seeing the beginners grow their confidence and skill climbing and descending. We are psyched to get more kids on bikes!


2018 MS Spring Sports Rosters

2018 WAC Sports Season Results

2018 Spring Sports Photo Album


Suspense-Filled Boys Tennis Tournament Ends with Rowland Hall's First State Title in Seven Years

About a week after Rowland Hall captured their first state title in boys tennis since 2011, Head Coach Tim Sleeper was still on cloud nine about the team's win. "There have been a couple of championships [throughout the years] that have stuck in my mind, and I think this will be one of them," he said.

It's not hard to understand what made this year's 3A State Tournament so memorable. In a drama-filled weekend that included Rowland Hall sophomore Peter Chase rallying from down 1-5 in the third set to win at #3 singles, the Winged Lions overcame a one-point deficit in the standings—to Waterford, nonetheless—by winning the final doubles match of the day.

Rowland Hall senior Soren Feola, who was paired with sophomore Justin Peng for the final match, recalled the intensity of the afternoon. "About halfway through our finals match, we found out that the state title rested on our shoulders. We pushed through the stress, even though everyone there was watching us," he said. "I think once that last point I hit was over, my mind went blank and all I could think was, 'Wow, I just did that for myself and my team.' I was filled with explosive happiness."

Coach Sleeper acknowledged that Soren had been in a similar position before but with different results, which only made this year that much more special. "The last shot of the whole tournament was Soren with an overhead to win the match," he said. "It was just really cool to see him come through and complete the journey."

The team's senior leadership, from Soren and #1 singles player Leif Thulin, and JV players Leo Doctorman and Chris Ausbeck, was a significant factor in this year's success. In particular, Coach Sleeper cited Leif's attitude and ability to bring the team together, whether at practice or during matches, as a consistent influence. "He deserves a lot of credit for what happened," Coach Sleeper said.

Complementing the senior leadership were outstanding performances from underclassmen, namely freshman Tucker Lee—who finished the season undefeated at #2 singles—and sophomores Justin and Peter. Coach Sleeper described Peter's attitude during his final match at the state tournament when he went to speak with him at the 5-2 changeover: "He had this energy I hadn't seen all season and this determination in his face. He said, 'I'm gonna do this' and he just went out and upped his game."

Celebrating a victory over rival Waterford added an extra layer of satisfaction to this year's championship, though Coach Sleeper has great respect for their longtime opponents. "Their coach is awesome," he said. "He makes a lot of good decisions and is always doing the right thing on and off the court, teaching good sportsmanship to his players."

Even in years when Rowland Hall lost to Waterford, Coach Sleeper has maintained a positive feeling watching his players grow on the court and summon their confidence at key moments. And heading into the state tournament May 11, despite having won the Region 13 championship the week before, he wasn't sure how his team would match up against unknown players from other regions.

In any case, he almost certainly would never have predicted the intensity of the tournament's conclusion, which he agreed couldn't have been scripted any better for the team. "To have all my players rise to the occasion at the same time was thrilling," he said. "The whole team—they just outperformed themselves."

Coach Sleeper was especially grateful for the way this season wrapped, as he has decided not to return to Rowland Hall next season and instead spend more time with his family. He will carry with him many fond memories of watching Rowland Hall's young athletes mature over the course of a season, and for some, throughout their high school careers.

"I've been honored to be a part of their lives throughout the years," he said. "They are an amazing group of kids."


New Upper School Fitness Program Teaches Wellness and Time Management

Over the past several years, enrollment in physical education (PE) classes steadily declined in the Upper School. Rather than getting discouraged by the lack of participation—and the subsequent lack of course offerings—PE teacher Mark Oftedal embraced a growth mindset. He saw the failures of the existing PE model in the Upper School as an opportunity to try something new: a Personal Fitness program that launched in September and is already creating buzz inside the Lincoln Street Campus hallways.

The program has a simple premise: make fitness fit your schedule. Instead of trimester or yearlong PE courses that meet at regularly scheduled times, students must accrue 25 hours of physical activity over the course of the year to earn one PE credit. Upper schoolers can earn two credits if they accrue 50 hours, but if they don't reach 25 by the end of the year, the hours won't carry forward.

The classes and activities available through the Personal Fitness program—which students were surveyed about, to gauge interest—appeal to a diverse crowd. Early offerings include hiking, yoga, Ultimate Frisbee, and meditation, with plans for kayaking, backcountry skiing, and open gym time underway. Students can attend a fitness class during a free period, after school, or sometimes on weekends, and most classes don't require advance signup. To earn credit, students must sign in with the instructor, and then participate to the best of their abilities.

Mr. Oftedal credited visiting colleges with his son Eli Oftedal '15 for inspiring him to look ahead to the fitness opportunities students will encounter after high school. He saw the first-rate recreational centers and facilities available to college students, and started to devise a PE program that would give upper schoolers the chance to try new activities, and require them to use time-management skills. The new program challenges students to figure out how they fit in, Mr. Oftedal said. "When they get to college, they won't have as many easy opportunities for athletics that they had here at Rowland Hall."

Our school's learning environment will help to make the Personal Fitness program a success, Mr. Oftedal said. "We can give students interesting options—maybe things they want to become better at, or things they have never tried before and can do in an environment that will be supportive, whether they succeed or fail."

Students are already embracing the program, according to sophomore Hailey Hauck. Hailey is a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team that plays after school on Mondays and Wednesdays with English teacher Joel Long and math teacher Brian Birchler. Last year Hailey played volleyball to earn PE credit, and while she likes the sport, she found the practice and game schedule a bit too demanding. She's planning to earn credit for the Ultimate Frisbee workouts this year, and feels less stressed without the commitment a team sport requires. She mentioned that her friends are looking forward to earning credit for backcountry skiing, something they already do an average of twice a week.

Ultimate Frisbee has yielded other benefits for Hailey, beyond a simplified way to earn PE credit. "I have been able to meet a lot of new people that I probably wouldn't talk to outside the team," she said. "And it's a great break—you can switch your brain off from school."

Exercise's mental boost plays a significant role in Mr. Oftedal's plan. He cited the latest neuroscientific research on how exercise improves brain activity and believes that students who can fit in a yoga or meditation class midday, or go for a walk during their free period, will perform better academically in the hours that follow. "All the literature shows that when students go out and get moving, and get chemicals flowing through their brains, they will be more apt to learn and remember material," he said. "It all points in that direction." He's also acutely aware of how much studying the average Upper School student does and wants them to find balance in their lives.

Mr. Oftedal hopes to expand the Personal Fitness program in the future to include guest speakers on topics such as nutrition, sleep habits, and sports psychology. He envisions a strong health and wellness curriculum that prepares students for the real-world scenarios they will encounter in college and beyond. The only challenge he currently anticipates is finding adequate space for certain activities, such as open gym time, especially since the Middle School PE program remains robust.

Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson said she's pleased with the rollout of the program so far, especially how it allows for flexibility. She thinks students are excited about the range of classes and curious about the impending experiential offerings. Mr. Oftedal foresees some of the off-campus classes like rock climbing or kayaking eventually turning into interim trips.

Mr. Oftedal also hopes that adults in our community—faculty, staff, or even parents—will join in the fitness activities, and act as positive role models for our students. "I want to create a culture where kids see that faculty and staff enjoy doing these things too, that they're trying to fit them into their lives because they see the benefits and enjoyment they get from exercise."

Experiential Learning

More Than Champions: Girls Soccer Team Becomes Family During Undefeated Season

The statistics from Rowland Hall's championship girls soccer season are impressive. They ended the season with an 18-0 record. They scored 168 goals, a new state record, and surrendered just six—three of which were in the championship game. Nearly every member of the team, including the goalkeeper, scored at least once during the season. And even the junior varsity team only lost one game this fall.

The season-long dominance by the team doesn't mean award-winning Head Coach Bobby Kennedy is ready to use the word "perfection," though. Instead, he said he found this year to be deeply satisfying. He likes to emphasize the team philosophy: "Rowland Hall—where winning is cultured, skills are tested, bonds are formed, and memories are made." He also pointed out, "The school's mission statement ends with personal excellence, and I believe if we ask that of students in the classroom, we ask that of them on the playing field." He reminded his athletes of this all season, and they followed suit.

Seniors summarized their season as exciting, memorable, successful, and record breaking. When co-captain Airam Perez mentioned the word "family," they all nodded in agreement. In fact, partway through the season, Airam and Caeli Kennedy—another of the team's captains—changed the cheer coming out of group huddles from "RoHo!" to "Family!" According to Caeli, the bonds this season grew even stronger than she expected, and much stronger than in her previous three years on the team.

Coach Kennedy attributed the team chemistry to a good mix of veteran players and young talent. "Everyone understood their roles and accepted them," he said. "Some seniors knew they weren't going to be starters, and believed that being part of the team was more important than the minutes they spent on the field. They all bought into the program."

For a team that didn't face much competition during the season—largely due to a state reclassification that shifted weaker or less experienced teams into the 2A Region—they were still tested at times. A few players suffered injuries or illnesses that required them to miss games, but maintaining motivation posed the bigger challenge. It's a winner's problem: you don't have to be as sharp as you could be, in order to beat less-talented opponents. Coach Kennedy never let his players off the hook, though: from the beginning of practice in late July through the championship game, he counseled them that their hard work and daily efforts were an investment in the future.

The players appreciated the rituals in practice and warm-up that helped them stay ready for competition, and the bonding activities such as "question of the day"—"What are you looking forward to this weekend?"; "What are your goals for the next game?"that kept the mood light. The student-athletes have enormous respect and admiration for their coaches. BK—as the athletes affectionately call their head coach—infrequently offered praise, but that only made it more meaningful when it came. Savannah Price hailed his second-to-none knowledge of the game, and his teaching style: "No one in this community knows more about soccer than BK, so having him as a coach was really valuable."

The highlight for players and coaches was, of course, defeating rival Waterford in the state championship game by a score of 6-3. While they may not have been highly motivated to play every opponent during the regular season, that game was different. "Championship teams have a way of igniting themselves when it's most meaningful," Coach Kennedy said. And while the players experienced nerves heading into the title game, they are proud of how they responded to pressure and achieved their goals.

"No matter who you play, a championship game will be nerve-wracking," Caeli said, "and the fact that we were playing our rivals added extra pressure." Goalkeeper Allison Bagley—the third co-captain on the team—said unlike earlier games, that final match tested her: "A lot of the games, I wasn't that active, but in the Waterford game, it was very different." Meg Janes said her nerves carried through halftime, when their lead of 1-0 was not as large as usual. But the coaches and players all agreed that in the second half, they settled in and started to play their style. "I started to realize, 'We got this now,'" Meg said with a smile.

Lauren Bikhazi cited the disappointing loss to Waterford in last year's championship game as another reason this victory felt so satisfying. Plus, the career seniors had secured their second state title—they bookended their high school soccer careers with championships in 2014 and 2017. The team listened to "We are the Champions" on the bus ride home, and celebrated over a shared meal that evening.

As happy and proud as the Winged Lions were to end their undefeated season with a victory over Waterford, some expressed mixed emotions. Airam voiced sadness in knowing she'd played her last high school game. In a chorus of agreement, the teammates identified what they'd miss most: the coaches and the relationships they've built. "Playing with your really good friends is always an awesome experience," Lauren said. When recalling funny mishaps on the field or inside jokes, the seniors shared laughs and whispers, making it clear that the memories made this year will stay with them for a long time.

Coach Kennedy can't help but look ahead to next year, especially given that this team had nine seniors, the largest number of departing players in his tenure as coach. "Our seniors led the team, and it wasn't just about talent," he said. "Around here, you know what is asked of you, and you stay prepared to answer the call." No matter how the roster shapes up in the future, the demand for personal excellence will remain an integral part of the soccer program—and chances are, that will lead to more success.


State Coach of the Year award


Update March 6, 2018: United Soccer Coaches in February 2018 named Bobby Kennedy the 2017 Utah Coach of the Year among girls' teams at independent high schools. Congrats to Coach Kennedy!



You Belong at Rowland Hall