WEEK 1 WRAPUP: No Slow Start for Kansas Cross Country Teams

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As far as openers go, the first week of the 2017 Kansas cross country season was -- let's just say -- a thriller. It definitely lived up to the hype.

Across the state, there were some exciting individual and team battles waged on the opening weekend, so much so that it's hard to say any were better than another. But let me take a shot at some of my favorites.

The biggest meet of the week was probably the Greg Wilson Classic, held at Johnson County Community College and hosted by St. Thomas Aquinas. The meet featured the fastest time run in Kansas this week -- Blue Springs' Victor Mugeche cruised to victory in 15:11 -- and the fastest time run by a Kansas athlete -- St. Thomas Aquinas' Ethan Marshall placed third in 15:58.10.

The host Saints also served notice that they have no intention of giving up their rightful claim as the best boys' team in Kansas. They won this meet with 56 points to 65 for Rockhurst (Mo.). St. Thomas Aquinas put up a 45 second pack time and ran without senior standout Andrew Lebourveau.

But we've got drama again in class 5A girls. Mill Valley kicked off the 2017 campaign with an impressive second place finish, scoring 80 points to finish behind Blue Springs (52). Mill Valley was 44 points ahead of 5A powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, the five-time defending state champs.

Senior Britton Nelson and sophomore Morgan Koca led a pack time of 35 seconds for Mill Valley's first five finishers. Nelson was seventh in 19:53 and Koca was eighth at 19:55.

Shawnee Mission North, led by Katie Kasunic's sixth place finish in 19:49, was fourth in the team standings with 113 points, putting up a pack time of 1:01 and average of 20:27 for its first five runners. Those numbers would lead you to believe that North is going to be a force in the 6A girls ranks this season.

At the J.K. Gold Classic in Augusta, Blue Valley West also sent some strong signals that it is a strong contender for the 6A girls crown, winning the meet with 31 points over 2016 class 4A state runner-up Andover Central. Sophie Call of Blue Valley, a sophomore, ran the state's fastest 5000 meter time this week, clocking 18:47 to win by more than a minute over teammate Kalea Chua (19:54).

Blue Valley West freshman Anna-Katherine Marquette is a nice addition to the team's state title hopes. She had the state's second best time for a freshman, clocking 20:33 for fifth place.

Trent Cochran, a junior at Gardener-Edgerton who was the state runner-up in class 6A boys last year, won the individual title at the J.K. Gold Classic. His time of 16:00.40 was the third best by a Kansas runner this weekend.

The surprise of the meet, perhaps, was the Circle boys team, which put together a nifty 35 second pack time and scored the team win over Blue Valley West. Circle, thought to be a top 3 team in class 4A this season, scored 75 points to Blue Valley West's 82. They were led by Eli Jacobson's sixth place finish (16:54).

Top Teams

Blue Valley Southwest went to Manhattan and did what very few teams have been able to do the past half-dozen years -- beat the home team. Senior Dylan Miller won the individual title in the state's second-fastest time of the week (15:59.9) and the Timberwolves put five runners in the top 16 for a 38 point total. Manhattan was second with 55.

Miller won the individual title in a race that featured five runners who placed in the top 14 in either class 5A or 6A last year. Leavenworth's Daniel Bohnemann was second in 16:18 and Manhattan's Cooper Schroeder third in 16:22.

Manhattan's girls looked impressive, scoring a 38 point victory over Blue Valley Southwest. Junior Clara Mayfield ran the state's second-fastest time for a Kansas girl, clocking 18:54.50 -- an impressive early-season time on the hilly Warner Park course.

Maize South's boys and girls -- the defending class 4A state champions -- kicked off the 2017 season in fine form, winning the Bishop Carroll Invitational.

Maize South's girls scored 30 points to get past cross-town rival Maize, which had 47. Destini Eskridge of Maize South won the individual title in 19:37, while Claire Winter of Bishop Carroll was second in 20:07.

The boys' team chase was a three-way affair which really came down to the fourth and fifth runners from each team. Maize South got the better of the battle, winning with 42 points, while Bishop Carroll was second at 62 and Maize third at 76.

Nathan Jones of Maize was the individual winner in 16:13, while Bryce Merriman of Maize South was second (16:22) and Matthew Harding of Bishop Carroll third (16:32).

Maize South is a 4A school, but is on the brink of being a 5A school depending on the upcoming September enrollment counts. It's quite possible that the Bishop Carroll Invitational was a great preview of teams that will battle to get on the podium at the class 5A state meet later this season.

And Hugoton's boys and girls certainly did their summer work. They dominated the Meade Invitational on Thursday in a kickoff to their defense of the school's class 3A state title sweep a year ago. Abby Heger won the girls' race in 21:32.75 as her team scored 18 points to runner-up Kiowa County's 48.

And Abraham Garcia won the boys' race in 17:18.76 to lead his team to a score of 20 points, well ahead of runner-up Stanton County's 72.

Top Individual Races

Highlighting some of the races that caught my attention this weekend was a matchup at the Clearwater Invitational between 2016 class 3A state champion Owen Pearce of Kingman and class 4A state champion Lakelin Conrad of Wichita Collegiate.

Pearce, a junior, got the better of this race, winning handily in 16:01, while Conrad -- who was also the class 3A state champ in 2014 -- was a distant second in 16:37.

The girls open 5000 meter race was won in 21:40 by Douglass freshman Kendall Coombs, but that race was as intriguing for who didn't run it. Clearwater sophomore Aimee Davis, the state runner-up in class 4A a year ago, did not compete and we are watching closely to see if she is still bothered by the ailment that cut short her 2017 track and field season last spring.

At the Tescott Invitational, Sylvan-Lucas sophomore Autumn Princ is picking up right where she left off last school year. Already the class 1A state champion in cross country, the 1600 and 3200, Princ clocked the state's third-best time of the weekend, winning in 19:09. She beat a pretty good runner, too; Bennington's Halle Johnson, who won the class 2A 800, 1600 and 3200 last spring, placed second in this race.

At the Burlington Invitational, Yates Center's Hadley Splechter -- who won the class 2A 1600 and 3200 last spring -- notched a nearly one-minute victory of West Franklin's Dallin Bailey, the runner-up in class 3A cross country a year ago. Splechter won in 16:14 to Bailey's 17:13.

At the Norton Invitational, Trego Community sisters Helen Giefer and Sybil Giefer put up a 1-2 finish in the individual race. Helen won in 19:38 while Sybil was second at 20:37. Both placed in the top seven at the class 2A state championships a year ago.

At the Goodland Invitational, Jack Thomas of Scott Community was the individual winner, clocking 16:21. Thomas is a five-time state medalist in cross country and track and field, including winning the 3200 meters in 2016.

Top Freshmen

It's always fun at the beginning of the season to see who's got the top newcomers. In many cases, freshmen runners can elevate a good team into a very good or even great team.

The top freshmen in Week 1 of the 2017 cross country season were Erik Enriquez of Kapaun Mt. Caramel, who clocked 16:57 for eighth place at the J.K. Gold Classic in Augusta; and Jordan Zade of Desoto who ran 20:05 for 11th at the Greg Wilson Classic.