If the Bennington High girls cross country team has
intentions of duplicating one of their school's best-ever stretches in the
sport, they are in a pretty nice position to do that.
The Bulldogs, let's just say, are loaded entering the 2017
cross country season. It makes the Bennington girls an overwhelming favorite to
successfully defend the 2A girls title they won a year ago.
It would also be the fifth state title in the school's
history, putting them one step closer to matching a historic run from 2006 through 2009
when Bennington won three state titles in four years (they also went
back-to-back in 2006 and 2007).
And did we mention that Bennginton is loaded? Ah, yes, they
are. Last year's state runner-up Kya Johnson is Class 2A's top returner, and
one of her top competitors for this year's individual title not only comes from
her own team - it also comes from her own home.
Halle Johnson of Bennington was 11th at the state cross
country meet last year, but she dominated class 2A track and field this past
spring. Halle Johnson swept the 800, 1600 and 3200 in track, and ran a leg on
Bennington's winning 4 X 800 meter relay team.
Kya Johnson was the class 2A state cross country champion as a freshman in 2015.
If that 1-2 punch isn't good enough, consider this:
Bennington returns its entire top 5 from last year's state champion team.
The Bulldogs' strength overshadows what is a very solid
division, however. Eight of the top 10, and 15 of the top 20 from last year's
class 2A state meet are back for another go.
Those returners include Erin Topham of Berean Academy
(fourth in cross country last year), and Lincoln's Aubry Donley (fifth last
year). Like the Johnson sisters, Trego Community junior Helen Giefer and
sophomore Sybil Giefer make up a pretty good 1-2 punch that could provide some
interesting battles when the two pairs of sisters get together on the course.
One runner I hope we get to see in cross country this season
is Valley Height's Samantha Vermetten. As a freshman in track and field,
Vermetten was the runner-up to Halle Johnson in the 800, 1600 and 3200. She
didn't run cross country last year, but she would definitely heighten the
strength of this classification and could certainly challenge any of the top
returners for the 2A girls state title.
Though they're a longshot for the 2A girls team title,
Maranatha Academy and Kiowa County have the inside track on the other two
podium spots entering the 2017 season.
In class 2A boys, the state got a good look at a budding
superstar last year in Yates Center's Hadley Splechter. He was the state
runner-up in cross country as a sophomore, and then validated that strong
finish by winning the 1600 and 3200 on the track in the spring. He set the
class 2A state record in winning the 1600 in 4:21.70, erasing the mark set one
year earlier by Olpe superstar Kyler True.
Splechter is now a junior, and after watching his attacking
style on the track, it's hard to see anyone taking him down in cross country.
Those with a chance, however, may just be wearing the same
uniform. Senior teammates Colin Bedell and Jordan Smith were fourth and seventh
at state cross country last year. Smith was also a medalist in the 1600 and
3200 on the track.
The trio make Yates Center a preseason favorite for the 2A
team title, though Bennington's boys just may have the depth to deny the
Wildcats. Though Yates Center returns its entire 2016 team, there is a deep
drop from their top three runners to the next two, giving Bennington a chance
to put a pack together and steal the title. That's probably going to be the
storyline at the 2A championships in October.
Yates Center has never won an individual or team title in boys cross country, so the Wildcats are also shooting for a bit of school history this season.
Other top boys returners in class 2A include Ethan Thompson
of Meade (third at state cross country, and fourth in both the 1600 and 3200 on
the track); Isaiah Barrera of Stanton County (ninth at state cross); and Henry Nelson of Bishop-Seabury (10th at state).