CLASS 6A STATE: Olathe East Gets First-Ever Boys' Title; Free State Wins the Girls' Race

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After a series of close calls over the past half-dozen years, the Olathe East boys' cross country team finally broke through at the Kansas Class 6A state championships Saturday.

Led by individual state champion Will Tindall (16:26), the Hawks captured the school's first-ever boys cross country championship, scoring 67 points for a convincing win over Garden City and Manhattan.

Marcus Tula (16:33) and Javier Cervantes (16:35.1) both finished in the top 5 for Garden City, which scored 119, and Cooper Schroeder was sixth (16:35.5) to lead Manhattan with 125 points. Sophomore Trenton Cochran of Gardner-Edgerton was the individual runner-up with a time of 16:31. Just 10 seconds separated the first seven finishers.

"I think all of these guys were fulfilled; it was a lot of hard work, and after last year (when the Hawks were a pre-race favorite but finished second), it was redemption," said Olathe East head coach Tony Bozarth, who has won five state titles with the Olathe East girls. "Our strategy today was to run like a rabbit jackelope."

And that they did. Olathe East put together a 40-second pack time, easily the best in the 12-team field. After Tindall came Ryan Weishaar (16th, 16:54), Alex Kirk (17th, 16:55), Connor Young (22nd, 17:03) and Ben Kahnk (23rd, 17:06).

"I feel great," Tindall said. "I wanted to stay back early in the race, but toward the first mile, I had a pretty significant lead. They started closing in on me, but I just had to kick it out the end of the race."

"It's crazy. Four years ago I never thought I'd be here."

Shawnee Mission Northwest junior Molly Born, No. 19 on the Saucony Flo50 U.S. rankings, successfully defended the girls 6A title, but it wasn't a walk in the park.

Lawrence Free State's Emily Venters, the state champion in 2013 and 2014, ran stride for stride with Born for the first half of the race. Born made a strong move on the lower end of the course and built about a 30 meter lead at the two mile mark.

"I just wanted to go out there and try my hardest and see what I got," Born said afterward.

Born said she has an appreciation for the friendly rivalry with Venters. "We're definitely competitors. We always wish each other good luck before the race and good job afterwards."

Venters and her Free State teammates will go home happy, nonetheless. The Firebirds put a bookend state title to Venters' stellar prep career when they captured the team championship handily. Lawrence Free State scored 59 points to beat Shawnee Mission North (87) and 2015 champion Manhattan (99).

Lawrence Free State also won the girls' team title in 2013 when Venters was the individual state champion as a freshman.

"Their effort was one that's just been similar all season," Lawrence Free State head coach Steve Heffernan said. "I knew coming in to the state meet they'd feel just a little more pressure because we ran well at league and did well at regionals and almost every meet. I think they came in to this meet this year after coming in a close second last year to Manhattan, just wanting to dig in a little deeper and see what we can do."

Gabriela Reyna of Wichita North finished third (18:53), holding off a strong kick by Shawnee Mission North's Amber Reed (18:54.7) and Blue Valley North's Lily Strauss (18:54.8).