If you've been tracking MileSplit's previews this past week of the 2018 cross country season in Kansas, you may already know what is potentially the biggest storyline for class 6A.
But just in case you haven't, let me summarize 6A in two words: Mill Valley.
Cross country and track and field coaches across the state have been talking about Mill Valley's move to 6A since just before last May's track and field championships. The Kansas State High School Activities Association announced that it would be increasing the membership in 4A, 5A and 6A to 36 teams - previously it was 32.
That put Mill Valley - a powerhouse in class 5A distance running the past few years - square in the middle of moving up to class 6A.
As of today, Mill Valley is a 5A school. But the annual Fall enrollment count takes place on Sept. 20 and KSHSAA says it will announce on or about Sept. 27 how those enrollment counts affect its classifications. A year ago, Mill Valley was the third largest 5A school, just on the cusp of being a 6A school.
That is the long version of the top story for Kansas 6A cross country in 2018. If all goes as expected, Mill Valley's move to class 6A ushers in a new era for the division, and perhaps pushes it over the top to once again being the dominant division in the state.
The Jaguars were the class 5A runner-up in cross country last year, the boys losing to the perennially tough St. Thomas Aquinas, and the girls dropping a thrilling five-point battle to St. James Academy.
In class 6A, Mill Valley's girls instantly become the team to beat at the state meet. The squad returns five of its top 7 from a year ago, including senior Delaney Kemp, who was fifth in cross country and third in both the 1600 and 3200 on the track.
Mill Valley's five returners notched an average time of 19:18 for 5K last year, which is 15 seconds better than the next-best class 6A team this year - Shawnee Mission North's top five returners ran a very respectable 19:33 for 5K a year ago.
In addition to Kemp, Mill Valley returns four runners with
state medals in either cross country or track and field, including junior
Morgan Koca (eighth in state cross country), sophomore Molly Ricker (tenth at
state cross country and third in the 800), junior Molly Haymaker (fifth in the
800), and sophomore Josie Taylor (13th in cross country). Mill Valley placed five runners in the top 14 at state last year, with a pack time of 28 seconds.
Class 6A defending state champion Shawnee Mission North still figures to give Mill Valley its toughest test, but Blue Valley North, Blue Valley West and Olathe North are teams that will have a good deal to say when the state championships roll around.
Mill Valley's boys may be in the mix for a podium spot, but they are definitely not the favorites in that division. That lofty status definitely goes to Olathe North, which returns all seven of its runners from last year's state champions.
In fact, Olathe North has four runners who have placed in the top 3 at state in either cross country or track and field. That includes seniors Brian Beach and Jackson Caldwell, who finished second and third at last year's cross country championships.
Get the idea? This Olathe North team is a battle-tested, senior-led running machine. It's going to take a mighty effort to upset Olathe North, which has won two of the past three 6A titles.
Beach was just a freshman when she won the title a year ago, clocking an impressive 18:25 over the Rim Rock Farm course, good for a five-second victory over Manhattan's Clara Mayfield. Those two runners also excelled on the track - Beach was third in the 1600 and 3200 while Mayfield won four state medals in the 800, 1600, 3200 and 4 X 800 relay.
They are likely to do battle again this year for the cross country state title, along with Mill Valley's Kemp, Blue Valley West's Sophie Call (third at state last year) and Kalea Chu (fourth), and Shawnee Mission North's Katie Kasunic (fifth at state). Blue Valley North's Lily Strauss, a seven-time state medalist in track and cross country, also could be in the mix.
In class 6A girls, eight of the top 10 from state a year ago are back, as well as 14 of the top 20.
Cochran seems to thrive on the cross country course where he has routinely been at his very best when the state meet rolls around. He surged late to edge Olathe North's Beach by six seconds for the title a year ago, and now has a chance to become just the eighth three-time boys state cross country champion in Kansas history.
In addition to the four Olathe North runners, others who have a good shot at winning the boys individual title include Shawnee Mission North seniors Logan Jiskra (fourth at state cross country last year) and Asher Molina (state champion at 1600 meters and runner-up in the 3200), and Manhattan sophomore Daniel Harkin (seventh at state cross country and fourth in the 3200).