CLASS 3A CROSS COUNTRY: Loads of Returners Gives a Familiar Feel to Class 3A

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If this year's Kansas class 3A cross country state meet looks a lot like a repeat of last year, well, that's because it just might be.

Déjà vu, anyone?

Or maybe this is where you insert your best "Groundhog Day" analogy, eh?

The 2016 state meet set a power structure in this division that just seems to be carrying over to 2017. In the girls division, 18 of the top 20 individuals are back this season, while on the boys' side, four of the top five are returning.

Robert Pearce of Kingman was the 3A boys state champion last year as a sophomore. He heads up a boys' field that should include 2016 state runner-up Dallin Bailey of West Franklin, as well as Hugoton's Abraham Garcia (a senior, fourth at state last year) and Riley County's Brett Kulp (a junior who was fifth at state).

Pearce and Bailey, now a senior, also went 1-2 in the class 3A boys 3200 meter run at the spring's track and field championships, and appear to have the makings of a healthy rivalry going on for individual titles.

Garcia is likely to lead another solid Hugoton boys' squad which won an exciting battle to unseat two-time defending champion Halstead at the 2016 state cross country championships. That team returns 6 of its top 7 runners from a year ago, placing them squarely as the team favorite for the 2017 title.

Halstead was hit hard by graduation, but is still a contender for the class 3A boys' podium, while upstart Council Grove has another year of experience that could finally land a podium spot for that school.

Hugoton's girls also won the class 3A state title a year ago, and return 4 of their top 5 in their quest to defend the title. It's not going to be easy, because class 3A girls seem to be extremely close with teams from Norton Community, Hiawatha and Beloit right in the mix.

In case you're wondering, those same four teams placed 1 through 4 at the 2016 state meet.

Hiawatha's Elizabeth Kettler, a junior, is the top returner to class 3A girls. She was second at the state cross country meet a year ago, but last spring, she won her second consecutive 3200 meter title in track, winning in a gutsy fight to the finish over Beloit's Hannah Burks.

Burks, just a sophomore, placed third in state cross country last year. She and Lexi Kats of Norton Community (fourth at state cross) actually had faster cross country PR's than Kettler last year, but Kettler ran a blistering last half-mile to beat them both at Rim Rock Farm.

Kettler not only could add a cross country title to her resume this year, but she may also be able to lead Hiawatha's girls to the team title. They were just eight points back of Hugoton last year, and they return 4 of their top 5 from that team. The interesting part of class 3A girls is that the individual battles between Kettler, Burks and Kats could be the difference in how their teams finish - it could be a matter of a team point here or there for the class 3A girls title this year.

Beloit, third at state last year, return its entire top five this season, while Norton Community - fourth at state in 2016 - returns four of five. Looking at virtual meets on Kansas MileSplit, those four teams are likely to be the top four again this year.

Keep this nugget in the back of your mind: Hugoton was a 4A school, and a pretty good one, before the 21-day enrollment count in Kansas last year when they were moved down to 3A. Could a return to 4A be in the cards, depending on the late September count this year?

That would completely rock this division...again.