Many of Kansas' brightest cross country runners got a chance to run against the best in the Midwest at the Nike Cross Heartland Regional meet in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Sunday.
Under nearly perfect conditions, finish times were extremely fast as many of the Kansas runners posted career-best times on the flat Yankton Trail Park.
Among Kansas runners, there were 15 boys who clocked times faster than 16:00 over the 5K course. And there were 13 Kansas girls who ran faster than 19:00 on the day.
The top two teams and top five individuals from the meet qualified for Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon in early December. No Kansas runners or teams were able to qualify for the national meet, but they did leave with some pretty big smiles on a course and a day that were ripe for fast times.
No one from Kansas ran faster than St. Thomas Aquinas junior Ethan Marshall, who finished 10th in the Boys Championship division with a time of 15:16.8. Marshall, the class 5A state champion two weeks ago, was just four places and 12 seconds from grabbing a spot at Nike Nationals.
Marshall led the Saints XC Club to a sixth place finish in the team standings. Reece Jones, fifth at the class 5A state meet this year, was 31st at the Heartland Regional with a time of 15:32.6.
Also in the Boys Championship race, Kerby Depenbusch of Great Bend, who was the runner-up to Marshall at the class 5A meet, was the second-highest finisher among Kansas runners, clocking 15:27.9 for 23rd, and Nathan Jones of Maize -- whose team was Children of the Corn -- placed 27th in 15:31.15.
Kansas class 6A champion Trent Cochran of Gardner-Edgerton clocked a career best of 15:32 for 29th place, while class 6A runner-up Brian Beach of Olathe North was 38th in 15:35.8, and Logan Jiskra of Shawnee Mission North was 39th in 15:36.0.
Other Kansas runners finishing under 16:00 in the Boys Championship race were Jackson Caldwell of Olathe North (58th, 15:43.4); Cooper Schroeder of Manhattan (60th, 15:44.4), Greg Haynes of Mill Valley (72nd, 15:50.5), Ben Kahnk of Olathe East (86th, 15:56.7) and Jacob Cofer of St. Thomas Aquinas (96th, 15:59.5).
In the team standings, class 6A state champion Olathe North placed 17th, class 5A runner-up Mill Valley was 20th, Olathe East was 23rd, and Shawnee Mission North was 24th.
The St. James Academy girls capped off a remarkable 2017 season two weeks ago by winning the class 5A state championship. On Saturday, running as the Thunder XC Club, they placed fourth at the Nike Heartland Regional with five girls finishing under 19:00.
Technically, they are not eliminated from the national meet as Nike will announce at-large teams in about three weeks among all third and fourth place teams at regional meets across the country.
Leading the way for the team at the Nike Regional was Sarah Murrow, the class 5A state runner-up, who placed 25th on Sunday in a time of 18:07.3. She was followed by teammates Katie Moore (49th, 18:26.6), Mary O'Connor (55th, 18:30.3), Mary Goetz (91st, 18:53.4) and Hannah Robinson (94th, 18:57.9).
Kansas class 5A state champion Olivia Sovereign, a junior, ran a remarkable race, finishing in 17:44.7 for 12th place in the Girls Championship race. Kansas class 6A state champion Riley Beach, a freshman, wasn't far behind, crossing the line in 18:00.5 for 22nd overall.
Katie Kasunic of Shawnee Mission North placed 30th in 18:10.5 and Manhattan's Clara Mayfield, the class 6A state runner-up two weeks ago, was 46th in 18:24.8.
Other Kansas runners finishing under 19:00 in the Girls Championship race were Blue Valley West's Kalea Chu (60th, 18:34.9), Blue Valley North's Lily Strauss (66th, 18:40.6), Mill Valley's Delaney Kemp (81st, 18:49.8), Olathe North's Sarah Whitaker (84th, 18:51.0) and Lawrence Free State's Julia Larkin (98th, 18:59.8).
In the team standings, class 6A state champion Shawnee Mission North was 15th, Olathe North was 21st and St. Thomas Aquinas was 22nd.
The Nike Heartland Regional featured 11 high school races and two community races. Aside from the Championship races, all other high school runners competed in one of four boys or three girls Open races.
In the combined Open results, Jack Moore of St. James Academy placed second overall in a time of 15:44.0, Blue Valley Southwest's Dylan Miller was third in 15:45.7, and Leavenworth's Daniel Bohnemann was fifth in 15:49.5.
Moore led his team, running as the Thunder XC Club, to a third place finish in the team standings, while St. Thomas Aquinas placed fourth in the Open division, led by Keegan Staats' 44th place finish in 16:19.3.
In the girls Open race, Washburn Rural's Jaybe Shufelberger was the top Kansas finisher, placing 28th in 19:11.9. Olathe East's Melody Ochana was not far behind, placing 31st in 19:13.2.
Coaches get in the act, too!
The Nike Heartland regional gives coaches an opportunity to practice what they preach, as they have the opportunity to run one of two community races on the same course that the high schoolers run.
The state champion among Kansas coaches -- if there is such a title -- will go to Shawnee Mission North's Aaron Davidson, who placed fifth overall in a time of 15:39.9. Blue Valley Southwest's Aaron Ballew was 39th in 18:04.3, and St. James Academy's Rob Harber was 73rd in 19:34.5.