WEEK 1 PREVIEW: Great Matchups, Tough Competition Highlight Opening Weekend

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Now the fun begins.

The 2017 Kansas high school cross country season gets underway on Thursday with several meets across the state. Each Wednesday through the 2017 season, I'll pick out some of the great matchups that we expect to see for the coming weekend.


Then check back for my column on Sunday evening that will recap some of the best races and biggest surprises of the weekend.


It's show time...




Class 5A boys and girls defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas packs the early season schedule with tough competition, beginning with this Saturday's Greg Wilson Classic at Johnson County Community College.


The meet features several of the best teams in the Kansas City area, including both sides of the border. Blue Springs South's girls beat St. Thomas Aquinas at this meet a year ago, and the boys' race will feature Blue Springs' Victor Mugeche, who won this meet last year in 15:33 and is one of the best runners in the Midwest region.


There were 21 boys who ran under 17:00 for 5K at this meet last year. St. Thomas Aquinas' girls are led by junior Olivia Sovereign (5A state champ last year, state runner-up in 2015) and senior Margaret Pigott (state runner-up last year, state champ in 2015). The Saints' boys team debuts a new set of leaders, expected to be seniors Andrew Lebourveau and Jacob Cofer.


The meet also includes Shawnee Mission Northwest and Shawnee Mission North, whose girls' teams should factor into the 6A state title chase later this season.


At the Manhattan Invitational, Blue Valley Southwest will make the trek west to take on the Indians, a team that is always tough on its home course. The matchup between boys' teams should be especially interesting; Blue Valley Southwest placed sixth at state in 5A a year ago, while Manhattan's boys were third in 6A.


The boys' individual race at Manhattan should also be intriguing, featuring state sixth-place finishers Cooper Schroeder of Manhattan (6A), and Blue Valley Southwest's Dylan Miller (5A). Adding extra spice to the individual race are Daniel Bohnemann of Leavenworth (13th in 5A last year), Hunter Henderson of Shawnee Heights (14th in 5A), Garrett Mick of Newton (16th in 5A) and Alex Henton of Manhattan (12th in 6A).


A pretty great team battle should also take place at the J.K. Gold Classic, hosted by Wichita State University at the Augusta golf course. Defending 4A girls champion Maize South will do battle with last year's state runner-up Andover Central and third-place finisher Circle. Those three schools also should put together a pretty good show in the boys' team race, too, though Andover won the meet a year ago.


Trent Cochran of Gardener-Edgerton enters as the pre-meet favorite in the boys' race. Just a junior, he's the top returning runner from the class 6A ranks, having finished second in state cross country and in the 3200 meter run on the track last year.


Another of the state's top individual runners, Kerby Depenbusch, will defend his home turf on Saturday at the Great Bend Invitational. Depenbusch kicks off his senior campaign as the top returner in the class 5A boys ranks.


Highlighting meets taking place on Thursday, the Anderson County Invitational should feature a great individual race between Anderson County's Averi Wilson and Santa Fe Trail's Hannah Honeyman. Wilson beat Honeyman at this meet last year, but Honeyman ended the season better, finishing 13th at the 4A state meet.


At the Burlington Invitational Thursday, we'll see the Yates Center boys cross country team kick off what they hope will be a historic season for the school. The Wildcats are a strong contender for the class 2A state title this year, and it would be the first ever for their school if they can pull it off.


They've also never had an individual state champion in cross country, and junior Hadley Splechter enters the season as a leading contender to erase that mark. Splechter was the state cross country runner-up last year, then won the 1600 and 3200 on the track last spring.


He'll be pushed on Saturday by a couple teammates - seniors Colin Bedell (4th at state last year) and Jordan Smith (7th) - as well as West Franklin's Dallin Bailey, the state runner-up in class 3A last year.


Hugoton's boys and girls, which swept the class 3A state titles in 2016, kick off their title defense at the Meade Invitational. Both squads return the bulk of the teams that won a year ago, and so it will take quite an effort for anyone to knock them off. But we may also get a good idea if those teams put in the summer work and are still hungry to go after another big gold trophy.


Other season debuts that I'm excited to see:

·      Clearwater's Aimee Davis, runner-up in class 4A state as a freshman, will run her home meet on Thursday. Davis announced her arrival to the state high school scene in a big way, winning the meet in a great time of 19:04 last year.

·      At Thursday's Concordia Invitational, St. John's-Beloit senior David Lutgen and Beloit sophomore Hannah Burks kick off what they hope can be a championship season. Lutgen was the state runner-up in class 1A last year, and Burks placed third in class 3A.

·      At the Basehor-Linwood Bobcat Invitational on Thursday, Morgan Dierks of Sumner Academy is one to watch in the girls race. She was eighth at the class 5A state championships a year.




Coaches and meet directors...we need you to remember to send results to Kansas MileSplit as soon as your meet is done. Please send a readable PDF, HTML, or Excel spreadsheet to Jim Madison, madisonj@westelk.us, or Pat Melgares, melgares@LetsGoRun.com.


Please do not send photocopies or pictures of results. We can not read those into our system. We need original files in PDF, HTML or Excel.


We are able to promote cross country in Kansas - and cross country athletes - if we know more about what's going on, so we need you to send results. The more we tell great stories about Kansas kids, the more exposure those kids are likely to get to additional opportunities past high school.