WEEK 6 PREVIEW: Light Schedule as Teams Gear for Championship Meets

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This week in Kansas cross country is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to competition on the course.

That's because this is the week before championship week. Most schools in the state will head to their respective league championship meets next week, followed by regionals and, of course, state.


Some coaches use this week as a rest week for their top runners, so I fully expect that we'll see many of the state's top runners getting an off week before the gauntlet of championship season.


There is, however, one championship meet that is taking place this weekend. Seven schools will get together for bragging rights when the Topeka City Championship takes place at Felker Park, and hosted by Highland Park.


Washburn Rural is the defending champs in both the boys and girls divisions, and are heavy favorites heading into this year's meet. Junior Maliki Pope of Seaman and senior Hunter Henderson of Shawnee Heights are the pre-meet favorites for the boys' individual title, while Washburn junior Jaybe Shufelberger (the defending City champion) and senior teammate Amanda Miller will likely decide the girls' individual crown.


Mill Valley hosted a rare mid-week meet at Shawnee Mission Park on Wednesday. We hope to have results for you by Thursday, but that meet was loaded with strong teams from the Kansas City area.


Thursday's schedule include meets in Burrton, Cheney, Cimarron, Lenexa, Lincoln, Louisburg, Phillipsburg, Osage City, Sabetha, Sterling and Wyandotte.


On Saturday, Shawnee Mission West hosts one of the week's bigger meets, the Carl Owczarzak Classic at Johnson County Community College. The meet could provide a last look at Blue Valley North's girls, which finished fifth at the prestigious Chile Pepper Festival last weekend in Fayetteville, Ark and are the leading contender to win the Kansas 6A state title.


Dylan Miller of Blue Valley Southwest and Daniel Bohnemann of Leavenworth - two of the top runners in class 5A this season - could match up at the Carl Owczarzak meet again. They battled it out last year before Miller won by three seconds.


One of the biggest in-state meets of the week will take place in Leonardville, and hosted by Riley County. The meet should feature about 20 teams, many of whom are there to get a look at the course they'll run in two weeks for the regional meet.


David Lutgen of St. John-Beloit and Brett Kulp of Riley County were the top two last year at this meet, and are likely to lead the way again on Saturday. Lutgen placed third in the Boys Blue division at the Rim Rock Classic two weeks ago, and currently has the No. 1 time in class 1A (16:14.90). Kulp is currently at No. 4 in class 3A with a season-best of 16:46.


Class 5A powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas continues its run against much of the region's best competition when it travels to the Kearney (Mo.) Invitational on Saturday. Forty-eight teams are expected at that meet.


Saturday's schedule also includes meets at Chaparral, El Dorado, Haskell (Lawrence), Pleasant Ridge and Salina Central.


Mid-season checkup


We're just past the midway point of the 2017 season and perhaps a lot more has come clear in terms of who will be hoisting the state championship trophies on October 28.


In my pre-season previews, here's who I thought would be the top teams, by classification:


CLASS 6A: Manhattan boys and Blue Valley North girls


CLASS 5A: St. Thomas Aquinas boys and girls


CLASS 4A: Maize South boys and girls


CLASS 3A: Hugoton boys and girls


CLASS 2A: Yates Center boys and Bennington girls


CLASS 1A: Beloit-St. Johns boys and Ingalls girls


Well, preseason picks are based on a lot of assumptions, such as who is going to be back and healthy, and not knowing which newcomers are going to make a big splash.


So, at mid-season, the picture comes just a little more clear, with the help of MileSplit's virtual meets. By classification, here are the current favorites for the team state titles as we enter October:


CLASS 6A: Olathe North boys and Blue Valley North girls


CLASS 5A: St. Thomas Aquinas boys and St. James Academy girls


CLASS 4A: Circle boys and Baldwin girls


CLASS 3A: Scott Community boys and girls


CLASS 2A: Bennington boys and girls


CLASS 1A: Beloit-St. Johns boys and Greeley County girls



6A boys seem to be a three-team race between Olathe North, Shawnee Mission North and Olathe South. Blue Valley North seems to have separated itself well from the pack in class 6A girls.


St. James Academy's girls smoked the competition at the Rim Rock Classic, and then put together a 13-second split for its first four runners at Baldwin the following week. They are hands-down the favorite in class 5A girls, but Mill Valley will be a strong challenger.


Maize South was moved to 5A, opening the door for Circle's boys and Baldwin's girls in 4A. Circle was a strong contender for the 2016 title before Maize South was moved down; Baldwin has a great program that last won the girls' state title in 2015.


Similarly, class 3A opened up when Hugoton, the defending boys and girls champs, were moved to class 4A. In what could be fairly high-scoring meets, Scott Community seems to have an edge right now.


Yates Center's boys may still be able to take down Bennington in class 2A, but the Wildcats need to get their fourth and fifth runners to the line a little quicker. Yates Center is definitely the best team in class 2A through three runners - junior Hadley Splechter has the division's best time - but they struggle to get their last two scorers in.


Bennington's girls, led by senior Halle Johnson (who has the state's top time of 18:11 for Kansas girls), will likely roll to the team title.


Beloit-St. Johns may flirt with a perfect score at this year's class 1A boys meet. The squad has four of the top six times in the division, which scores just the first four runners for team totals. Pre-season favorite Ingalls is still a solid pick in class 1A girls, but Greeley County holds a slight edge after five weeks of running.



Hang on tight, folks...the last four weekends of the season are going to be fun.