CLASS 5A CROSS COUNTRY: Aquinas Gears Up to Keep Its Winning Streaks Alive

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At a glance, it may look like the rest of class 5A boys cross country is catching up to St. Thomas Aquinas, winners of the past three state titles. Hope may lie in the fact that the Saints have graduated its potent 1-2 punch of Will Cole and Alex Gill, who swept the top two individual places at the 2016 championships.

But here's a sobering fact: St. Thomas Aquinas could have deleted the 1-2 finish by Cole and Gill last year, and still won the 5A state title with its two through seven runners.


That's why the Saints enter the 2017 season once again as the favorites in class 5A boys cross country. Seniors Andrew Lebourveau (eighth at state last year) and Jacob Cofer (ninth at state) make up a new fearsome twosome to lead Aquinas.


Mill Valley appeared to be a solid foe for St. Thomas Aquinas last year, but faded late in the season. Mill Valley finished second at the state meet, but was a distant 65 points behind the Saints.


Both teams return four of their top 7 runners, and appear to be the two best in the division again. Bishop Carroll, which has won class 5A ten times, may be on the verge of another upswing and seems to be a solid podium contender in 2017.


The team race in 5A boys will probably be determined by which team can hold together five, six or seven solid throughout the season - and how well they can pack together five runners.


Blue Valley Southwest is a darkhorse in the team race, returning six of their seven runners from the team that placed sixth at state last year.


Individually, Great Bend senior Kerby Depenbusch looks poised to chase an individual state title. He's been a state medal contender since he was a freshman, and is the top returner in this year's 5A boys' field. He was fifth at the state meet a year ago.


Kansas track and field fans will remember Depenbusch as the runner who just about ran away with the 1600 and 3200 meter state titles last spring. In both races, he tried to pull off a long-drawn-out kick, but ran out of steam just before the finish line. He was third in the 1600 and state runner-up in the 3200.


In addition to Lebourveau and Cofer, the division's top returners include senior Dylan Miller of Blue Valley Southwest (sixth at state cross country last year); and junior Matthew Harding of Bishop Carroll (tenth at state cross).


St. Thomas Aquinas' girls seem to be the heavy favorite to win a sixth consecutive state title in 2017. Defending state champion Olivia Sovereign, a junior, and runner-up Margaret Pigott, a senior, will head the charge. In 2015, Pigott was the 5A state champ and Sovereign was the runner-up.


In addition to that front-running power, the Saints return their top 6 runners from last year's team.


Mill Valley and St. James Academy again seem to have the best chance at taking down the Saints. Heading into the state meet a year ago, the state title seemed to be toss-up between St. Thomas Aquinas and St. James Academy, which had defeated the Saints twice during the season with its lethal Pack Attack mentality.


But the St. James pack failed to materialize at state, and Aquinas won fairly easily.


St. James Academy lost three of its top five from that team, so they'll need to rely on newcomers to mount another challenge. Mill Valley, which was hanging close to the other two teams early in the 2016 season, placed a distant third at state with a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Mill Valley brings back its entire varsity squad hoping to move closer to the state title this season.


Britton Nelson of Mill Valley placed third at the state meet last year and will lead her team's attack. Seven of the top 10 finishers at last year's state meet are back this year, including St. James Academy's Sarah Murrow, who won the 3200 meter run on the track as a freshman last spring.


Other top returners include junior Delaney Kemp of Mill Valley (fourth in the 1600 last spring) and senior Abby Stewart of Emporia (state runner-up in the 3200).


Quick Facts

St. Thomas Aquinas has won seven boys state cross country titles, and eight girls titles. Their total of 15 is the third most 5A titles won by one school. They are two behind the 17 titles won by Bishop Carroll, which had its own run of domination in class 5A through the 2000s. Carroll has ten boys titles and 7 girls titles.


St. Thomas Aquinas would tie Carroll for the second-most class 5A titles if the Saints were to pull off another sweep this Fall. Bishop Miege has won the most class 5A titles: 12 by the girls program and eight for the boys -- or a total of 20.

St. Thomas Aquinas' girls also won a 6A state title in 2004.


As impressive as the run by St. Thomas Aquinas and Bishop Carroll is, they could combine all of their titles and still fall short of the all-class state record held by Shawnee Mission Northwest, which has won 20 boys and 13 girls championships - or a total of 33 state titles. Shawnee Mission Northwest won all of its titles in class 6A, including a state record streak of 14 straight titles from 1994 through 2007.