Top Teams, Individuals Start Making a Move, as We Preview Week 3

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It's Week 3 of the 2017 cross country season in Kansas, and we're getting a few more clues about how it's all going to shake out when the state championships roll around in late October.

For one, I think Mill Valley is a legitimate contender in class 5A. I got a first-hand look at them last weekend in Emporia, and aside from winning the boys and girls divisions, I saw a team that runs together and fights at the finish.


Now, you have got to have some talent, too, and the willingness to work hard. But state trophies are won by teams that give that little bit of extra, and it seems to me that forming a tight pack and winning a few finish-line battles qualifies as being a "little extra."


They're also taking on the best teams in the state week-to-week. After running at the Greg Wilson Classic in Week One - where the girls' squad beat 5A powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas - the Jaguars swept the team titles at the Emporia Invitational in week 2, a meet that had about 1200 runners competing.


This week, Mill Valley is scheduled to run at the Southern Stampede in Joplin, Mo., a meet that features more than 3,000 runners from four states.


Other Kansas teams slated to compete this week at Joplin include Baxter Springs, Blue Springs South, Columbus, Frontenac, Galena, Girard, Maize South, Manhattan, Olathe East, Pittsburg, and Yates Center.


Meanwhile, in Kansas...


The action gets started on Thursday this week with good meets planned in Bennington, Clay Center, Hays, Wellsville, Trego and Burden.


Former class 2A state champion Kya Johnson of Bennington, a junior, has not run in her team's first two meets of the season, so we'll keep an eye to see if she debuts at her home meet. Her sister, senior Halle Johnson, is off to a good start this year, including last week's win at Wamego.


She will have her hands full, though. Sylvan Lucas is scheduled to run at Bennington, which means class 1A state champion Autumn Princ should be on hand. Princ won the cross country, 1600 and 3200 state titles as a freshman last year, and has already run 19:09 this season.


Halle Johnson won at Bennington last year, while Kya Johnson was second and Princ placed third. Halle Johnson is vying to add a cross country state title this season to the 800, 1600 and 3200 she won on the track last spring.


The Hays meet is a good one to keep an eye because it pairs several western Kansas teams against teams from the middle of the state. Dodge City, Garden City and Hays are teams that can be sneaky good in some years, and this meet will get them running against teams that have thus far run against teams on the eastern or middle part of the state - such as Junction City and Salina Central.


We could get a better idea of how the western teams compare to the rest of the state.


You could get a look at one of the state's young lions if you head to Clay Center on Thursday. Chapman's Taylor Briggs, a freshman, won the Wamego Invitational last week in an impressive time of 19:36.50, the second best time in class 4A so far this season.


The boys' race at Clay Center should feature an interesting battle between Smoky Valley's Calvin Shannon, Chapman's Aaron Modrow, and Riley County's Brett Kulp. They were the top three finishers at this meet last year, and all seem to be running well this season.


Shannon placed third in class 4A state last year, while Kulp was fifth in class 3A.


Weekend Fireworks


There are 13 meets on the slate for Saturday, counting Joplin, but the in-state meet I'm particularly interested in is the Bonner Springs Invitational at Wyandotte County Park. That meet has 28 teams scheduled to compete, mostly from Kansas, but a few Missouri schools are sprinkled in.


I think we'll see a great individual race on the boys' side, likely between Leavenworth's Daniel Bohnemann and Shawnee Mission North's Joseph Coddington.


Coddington has the second-fastest time in Kansas this season, running 15:46.30 at the Olathe Twilight Cross Country Classic last Saturday night. Bohnemann's season-best is 16:18.0 in the heat and on the hilly Warner Park course in Manhattan. I fully expect these two will run shoulder-to-shoulder for much of the race on Saturday.


A Kansas runner you may never have heard of is Kallen Webster of Kansas City East Christian Academy, which is not sanctioned by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Webster could be the darkhorse to beat Coddington and Bohnemann; he ran 16:19 for cross country last year, and has a career best of 16:08.73 to place ninth at the Cross Country Coaches National Youth Championships in 2015.


The girls' race at Bonner Springs should showcase two of the best 6A teams in Kansas. Blue Valley North is a powerful team, led by a duo that currently has the top two times in the state this season. Sophie Scott has run 18:24.20 and Lily Strauss has clocked 18:42.30. Strauss was fifth at the state cross country championships last year, and Scott won the 800 meters on the track in the spring.


Shawnee Mission North is a team capable of beating Blue Valley North, so the team chase at Bonner Springs is compelling for that reason. SM North was 21 points behind Blue Valley North at the Olathe Twilight meet, but did have its five runners in the top 16 and a pack time of 46 seconds.


And it should be a pretty good meet at Wichita Southeast this weekend. Most of the Wichita-area schools are scheduled to run at the Cessna Activity Center, plus Shawnee Mission North and Washburn Rural. Bishop Carroll's Matt Harding and Wichita East's Emilee Endsley are likely the favorites in the individual races.


Check out the listing of all of the weekend meets on Kansas MileSplit,


Still among the missing...


By now, everyone in the state knows that Shawnee Mission Northwest standout Molly Born suffered a stress fracture last spring, and may miss all of this year's cross country season. If you haven't been reading her weekly blog on MileSplit, it's well worth the read to hear her experience trying to get back.


But there are numerous Kansas standouts who I've not seen results from this season, and who I hope will get back on the course soon.


In Class 5A, a couple of St. Thomas Aquinas stars have been shelved so far. Seniors Andrew Lebourveau and Margaret Pigott have not suited up this season. Pigott was the class 5A state champion in 2015, and the runner-up in 2014 and 2016.


And nothing yet from Great Bend's Kerby Depenbusch or Clearwater's Aimee Davis. Depenbusch, a senior who was fifth at state last year, is the top returner in the 5A division, while Davis, a freshman, was runner-up in the class 4A meet a year ago.


We all know that injuries are a part of this, and every, sport. But here's to hoping that those who are nursing pains will get back to the course soon. It's something that all of us as cross country fans want to see.