WEEK 8 RECAP: Regionals Bring Out the Best in Kansas

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With just days left in the 2016 season, we are seeing the best of Kansas' cross country runners. Can we just go ahead and run the state meet today?


Okay, we'll let these athletes rest a few more days, but Saturday's regional meets sure made it easy to get anxious about next week's championship races.


I get especially excited about team battles. I love seeing how a group of individuals can come together for a common goal and seeing how every runner fights and claws for any way to help the team.


That said, Saturday's regional meets around the state brought a thrill ride of matchups.


Out west, Wallace County and Ingalls tied for the regional team title in the Class 1A regional at Tribune. Wallace County got the win based on a fifth runner tiebreaker; Ingalls only had four runners. Wallace County was fifth at state last year, but seems to be a team that can climb the ladder for a podium finish at least -- and maybe even get the big gold trophy.


In the Class 5A Mill Valley regional, St. James Academy's girls put up a 29 second pack time to overcome St. Thomas Aquinas' top-end strength, winning by 10 points (31-41) in a matchup of teams that are heavily favored for the top two spots at next week's state meet. Aquinas' Olivia Sovereign won the race in 18:55, followed by teammate Margaret Pigott (19:03), but soon after came the St. James wave.


Aquinas beat St. James at the Sunflower League meet one week earlier. The rubber match at state is the third straight week these two teams have tangled.


In the Class 6A Wichita regional, Garden City's boys took the first three spots in the individual race, but still had to hold their breath to post a one-point victory over rival Dodge City. Marcus Tula (16:13), Erik Chaparro (16:24) and Javier Cervantez (16:30) put up the 1-2-3 finish.


In the Class 1A girls regional at Riley County, a battle of two teams who finished in the top 4 at state last year went to Centralia, which scored 25 points to Tescott's 30. Centralia was the state runner-up in 2015, and seems to be hungry to rise one more spot.


Olpe's boys, which could not have fielded a full team had the school remained in Class 2A this season, now looks like a podium contender at state. With just four boys, enough to score in Class 1A, the squad put up an impressive score of 23 to beat Pretty Prairie (35). Senior Kyler True, a two-time individual champion in Class 2A, is the leading contender to win the 1A title this year.


Another team likely to make some noise at state is Yates Center. They put up a winning score of 22 at the Class 2A Burlington regional, led by a 1-2-3 finish by Hadley Splechter (16:37), Colin Bedell (17:01) and Jordan Smith (17:44). That trio has been pretty consistent this season, but now the Wildcats are getting some help from the back end of their roster.


The early favorites in 6A boys -- Olathe East and Manhattan -- looked great in winning their respective regionals. Olathe East won the Blue Valley West regional with 31 points, well ahead of Olathe South (62). And Manhattan put up a 37 second pack time for 31 points and 35 point win over Washburn Rural, a team that nearly beat the Indians at the Centennial League meet one week earlier.


In Class 6A girls, two teams that tied for the state championship in 2015 matched up in the Manhattan regional. Manhattan won the state title on the sixth runner last year on what is essentially Lawrence Free State's home course -- Rim Rock Farm. Saturday, Free State won on Manhattan's home course, scoring 30 points to Manhattan's 37.


In the Class 4A KC Turner regional, defending girls state champion Baldwin held off Basehor-Linwood to win by three points (68-71). Wamego's boys scored 63 to fight off Tonganoxie (70), and Spring Hill edged Hayden for the third spot to state.


In Class 5A, Bishop Carroll was in no mood to be pleasant hosts. They swept their regional, the boys winning by six points over Maize (42-48), and the girls by nine over Valley Center (50-59).


More highlights this weekend, by classification:


CLASS 1A


Autumn Princ of Sylvan-Lucas, just a freshman, is a legit contender for the state title. She won the Riley County Invitational in 19:02.


Lucas Skinner of South Gray won the Tribune-Greeley County regional, setting up a showdown with a familiar foe -- Kyler True of Olpe. That duo went 1-2 at the Class 2A state meet a year ago, and with both of their schools now in Class 1A, they'll match up again next Saturday.


Defending 1A girls state champion Greeley County just about got knocked out in the Tribune regional. They snagged the fourth and final qualifying spot from that region.


At the same region, Class 1A girls' top returner from year ago, Robyn Selzer of Wallace County, won the individual title. She was second place at state a year ago.


CLASS 2A


In the Meade regional, Caleb Carrasco of Stanton County (16:42) out-sprinted Kiowa County's Frank Cuevas (16:43) for the individual win. Cuevas was third at state last year, and the top returner from last year's 2A meet. Stanton County's Rebeca Avelar, second at state last year, won the Meade regional in 19:56.


KC Christian looks strong, winning the Washington County regional with 46 points. Senior Luke Rovenstine won the individual title in 17:09. Maranatha Academy's boys, the state champs in Class 2A last year, failed to qualify out of the Washington County regional.


Watch out for the Johnson sisters of Bennington. Halle Johnson, a junior, won the Washington County regional in a solid 19:15, while her sister Kya Johnson, a sophomore who won the state title as a freshman, was second in 19:26. They could repeat the finish Saturday in Wamego.


Sophomore Helen Giefer of Trego won the Hill City regional in 20:02. The defending Class 2A girls champions, Ellinwood, won the team title with 60 points, followed by Decatur (86) and Ellis (95).


CLASS 3A


Senior Celia Biel of Hutchinson-Trinity is smack dab in the mix for the state individual title. She won the Sterling regional Saturday in a time of 19:09. Freshman Lexi Kats of Norton placed second in 19:20.


At the Riley County regional, Luke Oatney of Pleasant Ridge and Brett Kulp of Riley County put on a good show. Oatney eventually won in 17:04, while Kulp was second in 17:14. Riley County's boys, the state runner-up in 2015, won the team title with 56 points, ahead of Beloit's 73.


Also at Riley County, freshman Hannah Burks of Beloit looks to have stardom in her future. She clocked 19:09 to win over Hiawatha's Elizabeth Kettler (19:30), who is a very good runner in her own right.


At the Council Grove regional, Perry-Lecompton's girls edged the defending state champion Southeast of Saline by a single point, 78-79. And Eskridge-Mission Valley slipped past Osage City by one point to grab the third qualifying spot to state. Council Grove's boys, third at state a year ago, are a legitimate team contender; they scored 54 point Saturday to win by 42 over Central Heights.


CLASS 4A


The list of contenders for the individual title in Class 4A boys is long; the division is rich in talent. The four regionals were highlighted by wins by four of those contenders.


Smoky Valley's Calvin Shannon put up the most noise. He rocked the Sand Plum course at the Hays regional to the tune of 15:27, winning by 43 seconds over Jack Thomas of Scott Community (16:10). Lakelin Conrad won the El Dorado regional in 16:23, Devin Brooks of Fort Scott won at Burlington in 16:31, and Dylan Brenneman of Spring Hill won the KC Turner regional in 16:52.


Expect Maize South's Ethan Kossover, who was second in 16:36 at the El Dorado regional, to join those guys in what may be a wild race next Saturday in Wamego.


Clearwater freshman Aimee Davis again was impressive. She won the El Dorado regional in 18:45, the fourth time she has dipped under 19:00 this season. Maize South's Sierra Mortensen was second in a time of 19:03, and Independence's Renee Trout was third in 19:31.


Maize South swept the team titles at the El Dorado regional. Both teams are strong favorites to win Class 4A state titles this week.


Cailie Logue of Girard won the girls' race at the Burlington regional, clocking 17:45. Her teammate Layne Karhoff, a solid top 10 runner in Class 4A, was second in 19:44.


CLASS 5A


Alex Moen of Andover seems to like the Jones Park course in Emporia. Earlier this season, he posted a solid win against a good field, and he did it again Saturday, outdueling Salina South's Josh Reed for the regional title. Moen won in 16:14 while Reed put up a solid 16:21.


The girls' team chase turned out just as billed, with six teams fighting it out for three spots. Salina Central pulled out the win, scoring 72 points to beat cross-city rival Salina South (80) and Andover (84). Kapaun-Mt. Caramel (88), Newton (92) and Emporia (96) just missed out on the trip to state.


Will Cole of St. Thomas Aquinas, the state runner-up last year, and teammate Alex Gill, fourth last year, put on a show at the Mill Valley regional. Cole won in 15:56 and Gill was right on his heels in 15:57. If you missed it, don't worry: those two are likely to repeat the scene at this week's state championships.


Aquinas' boys are putting to rest other teams' hopes of taking away the Saints' 5A state title. Saturday, Aquinas won with 20 points to beat what some think may be their closest competition, Mill Valley (60 points) and Blue Valley Southwest (82).


Great Bend runners swept the individual wins at the Bishop Carroll regional. Kerby Depenbusch clocked 16:13 to beat Bishop Carroll's Matthew Harding (16:32), while Karen Razo finished in 19:28 for a 10 second win over Liberal's Camryn Slatten.


Dawson Podlena of Seaman (16:32) and Morgan Dierks of Sumner Academy (19:56) won the KC Turner regional. Lansing, Leavenworth and Topeka-Seaman qualified both teams from that same regional.


CLASS 6A


Defending state champion Molly Born of Shawnee Mission Northwest and two-time state champion Emily Venters of Lawrence Free-State are once again on a collision course. Both won their regional meets on Saturday, setting up a rematch of their Sunflower League race that Born won a week earlier.


Venters smashed the course at Manhattan's tough Warner Park course, clocking 17:56, while Born was winning the Shawnee Mission Northwest regional in a cruise-control 18:21.


Venters' time was the second fastest girls' performance of the weekend. There were nine girls in Kansas who put up times under 19:00 Saturday. Two of those were chasing Venters as Kiran Cordes of Free State (18:39) and Cara Melgares of Manhattan (18:40) smoked the Warner Park hills.


Some good teams that ran at the Shawnee Mission Northwest regional are staying home after two very intense team battles. Shawnee Mission North won the girls race with 28 points, while Shawnee Mission Northwest was second with 40. Olathe Northwest pulled off a mini-stunner, scoring 101 to deny Shawnee Mission East (102 points) a spot in the state meet.


The boys' team fight was even better, though not for Shawnee Mission North. They also missed out on a ticket to state by one point, scoring 73 points to finish fourth behind Shawnee Mission East (59), Shawnee Mission Northwest (62) and Shawnee Mission South (72).


Blue Valley North's Lily Strauss (18:58) and Sophie Scott (19:07) went 1-2 in the Blue Valley West regional, but Olathe North put up a 54 second pack time and placed five runners in the top 12 to win the team title. Olathe North had 39 points to Blue Valley North's 44. Olathe East pulled off a mini-surprise by beating Blue Valley for the third spot.


Pierce Flanders of Washburn Rural, sixth at Class 6A state last year, put up his third win in a row -- and third title -- in winning the Manhattan regional in 16:20. He had previously won the Topeka City League and Centennial League titles. The boys' individual race at Manhattan was a thriller, as five runners were bunched up with just over a quarter mile to go.


THE WEEK AHEAD…


Results of all Kansas cross country regionals are available on Kansas MileSplit. Use the link to "Virtual Meets" if you want to forecast the state meets. I'll also be writing preview stories for each classification this week, and we'll have on-site coverage from Wamego and Lawrence on Saturday.


There are many folks who help Kansas MileSplit during the year, but I'd like to give a special shoutout to James Schulz (and family!) and Greg Hall for all of their excellent work. Many of you know them or at least have seen them taking photographs and video at numerous meets from late August through late October. Those guys do great work. Make sure you give them a "Thank You" or high five when you see them tromping around Rim Rock or the Wamego Country Club on Saturday.


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