League Championships on Tap Across Kansas

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NOTE: Due to Saturday forecast of thunderstorms in Kansas, some meets are being moved to Friday. As of Thursday morning, we know that the Sunflower League and Kaw Valley League have been moved to Friday. Check with your local school to make sure exact days and times of your league meet.


You'll have to pardon me for initially thinking this was state championship weekend for Kansas cross country.


You see, I look at the schedule and I see the Eastern Kansas League on Thursday afternoon and I see that many of the best 5A and 6A runners are ready to toe the line.

 

Then, I see the Sunflower League championship all set to go, and I figure someone's about to win the big gold trophy in class 6A.

 

After taking my reality pill, and getting a little better calendar, I came to my senses and realized this is just the first of three championship weekends. There are 39 high school leagues for cross country in Kansas, and while a few of those have already been decided, the bulk of the action takes place this Thursday through Saturday.

 

For many, league championships are just as important as state championships. In fact, many schools hang banners for two meets - league and state.

 

This is the week when athletes and schools get bragging rights over their closest rivals. You're going against your friends and maybe even a cousin from the next town or county. When these kids see each other sometime this winter or next summer, there just may be a little dig by the one whose team grabbed the league title away this year.

 

So, you're going to see every team in Kansas bringing out the best they got this weekend.

 

Which is a good segue way back into the start of this article. The Eastern Kansas League Championships is likely a tougher meet than the class 5A state championships, while the Sunflower League Championships feature many of the top teams in class 6A.

 

Eastern Kansas League

 

It should be illegal for a league to be this darn good. In two weeks, the individual and team state champions in class 5A and class 6A may come from this league.

 

The Eastern Kansas League features the class 5A five-time defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas girls, and three-time defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas boys. Their dominance in class 5A has been well-documented.

 

But the league also features powerful class 5A teams from St. James Academy and Mill Valley, both of which have boys and girls teams capable of winning state titles. In fact, without St. Thomas Aquinas' run the past several years, one of these schools probably would have been winning state titles instead.

 

It's not a stretch to say these three schools will sweep the top three spots at the class 5A state championships in two weeks - in both boys and girls divisions.

 

The league also features several of the best class 6A teams. Blue Valley North is a heavy favorite to win the class 6A girls state championship in a couple weeks, and one of their main challengers for the 6A title is fellow EKL rival Blue Valley West. If you want to look at virtual meets, Blue Valley North is a slight favorite to win the league title over St. James Academy.


Think about this: Between 5A girls and 6A girls, there will be six trophies given at the state meet this year, and five of those trophies very well could go to teams from the EKL.

 

Blue Valley North's Sophie Scott is a state champion in the 800 meters, and has run the state's second fastest 5K this season. Teammate Lily Strauss was fourth in the 6A state cross country championships last year and has run 18:42 this season - the second-fast among all EKL runners entering Thursday's meet.

 

Blue Valley Southwest's boys are as good as any in this league, and are a top three contender in class 6A boys this season.

 

Through the first three weeks of the season, I strangely had overlooked St. James Academy's girls, but they were quietly going about their business, winning meet after meet after meet. I will make that mistake no more.

 

St. James' girls are undefeated against all Kansas and Missouri competition this season, including an impressive win at the Rim Rock Farm Classic in September. The following week, St. James put together a 46 second pack time to dominate the Baldwin Invitational.

 

At this point in the season, St. James is the best girls team in 5A, and they begin the league-regionals-state championship season as favorites in all three meets. They are led by sophomore Sarah Murrow, a state champion in the 3200 meter run on the track last spring, but the squad's true strength is in its ability to string a tight pack together over 5000 meters.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas is led by junior Olivia Sovereign, the defending individual state champion in class 5A, while Mill Valley is headed by junior Morgan Koca - who has the second-best time in class 5A this season at 19:00 -- and senior Britton Nelson, who was third at the class 5A cross country championships a year ago.

 

The St. Thomas Aquinas boys look as strong as ever, despite graduating their top two runners from a year ago. The Saints have not been beaten by a Kansas school this season, and are led by junior Ethan Marshall, who has class 5A's fourth best time of 15:55.9 this season.

 

Mill Valley's Greg Haynes has run the best time among class 5A boys this season, 15:40.0 at his home meet last weekend. His teammate, Jack Terry, has the division's third best time of 15:55.2. In my opinion, Mill Valley is the team most capable of unseating St. Thomas Aquinas' boys - whether that be in the league meet or the state meet.

 

Dylan Miller of Blue Valley Southwest is another strong contender in the boys' race, which features four runners who have run sub-16:00 this season. In fact, there are 23 runners in the EKL who have run faster than 17:00, and it's possible there will be even more than that in Thursday's meet.

 

On the girls' side, Blue Valley West sophomore Sophie Call (who has a season-best of 18:47) and junior teammate Kalea Chu (19:08) will contend for the individual title, while Blue Valley Northwest freshman Riley Beach - who defeated Scott and Strauss last weekend - is the newcomer with a shot at the individual title.

 

The EKL meet will start Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at Johnson County Community College.

 

Sunflower League

 

The top three teams in class 6A boys will go head-to-head at the Sunflower League championships, which have been moved to Friday morning at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence due to thunderstorms in the forecast for Saturday.

 

Shawnee Mission North has emerged as a favorite for the class 6A boys state title, but only by a slight margin over Olathe North and Olathe South. It just so happens that all three teams also reside in the Sunflower League, so they get to knock heads a little bit this weekend before deciding the state title in two weeks.

 

Shawnee Mission North is led by senior Joseph Coddington, who has run 15:46 this season. In fact, the squad's top 7 runners have all posted season-best times under 17:00 this season.

 

Brian Beach of Olathe North has the fastest time run by a Sunflower League runner this season, 15:42, which is also the third best time in Kansas. He was seventh in the class 6A state championships last year.

 

Olathe South may be the best packing team of the three. Their top five has season best times within 38 seconds of each other, which seemingly is what they will need to win the Sunflower League - and state meet - title. Lucas Shryock (16:15) heads up that team.

 

Trent Cochran of Gardner-Edgerton is also a contender for the boys individual title. He was second at the class 6A state championships last year, and has a season-best time of 15:46.

 

In the girls' race, defending champion Molly Born of Shawnee Mission Northwest - who has also won the past two class 6A state titles - is not expected to run as she is still recovering from a stress fracture. Born might be back in time for regionals next week.

 

That leaves the individual race up to Claire Fuhlhage of Olathe North and Katie Kasunic of Shawnee Mission North. Fuhlhage has a season-best of 18:48 at the Olathe Twilight Classic, and 19:04 at the Kansas City XC Classic two weeks ago. Kasunic ran 19:07 at the Olathe Twilight Classic and recently clocked 19:24 at the Baldwin Invitational.

 

Kasunic is likely to lead her team to victory, as the girls' chase seems a little more clear than the boys' side. Olathe North could challenge Shawnee Mission North for the title, but they'll have to get their fourth and fifth runners to the line a little more quickly.

 

Around the state...

 

In class 1A, St. John-Beloit's David Lutgen will lead his team into the post-season Thursday at the Northern Plains League Meet, hosted by Lakeside. Lutgen has the leading time in class 1A this season, and his team is favored to defend the class 1A title they won in 2016.

 

Sophomore Autumn Princ of Sylvan-Lucas begins her quest to defend the class 1A state title she won last year, also running in the Northern Plains meet. Princ won four state titles as a freshman, three of those on the track.

 

Class 2A state favorite Bennington rolled to the Heart of America League championships, held Tuesday at Prairie Ridge Park in Hutchinson. Halle Johnson of Bennington, who clocked 18:10 two weeks ago for the best time in Kansas, was the league champ for the girls.

 

Yates Center's boys, a trendy pick in class 2A, will run the Three Rivers League meet Thursday at Pleasanton. Junior Hadley Splechter, who has class 2A's top time this season, will lead the Bulldogs' charge.

 

Class 3A defending state champion Owen Pearce of Kingman is the one to beat in the Central Kansas League meet. Pearce, a junior, has a season-best of 16:01. Teammate Teegan Flanagan, who has a season-best of 16:31, could be his closest competition.

 

Scott Community begins the postseason as not only favorites in the Great West Activities Conference, but also as contenders for the class 3A state title. Junior Jack Thomas has the second-best time in class 3A this season at 16:05.

 

Hannah Burks of Beloit has the best time among girls in class 3A (19:23). She'll run in the North Central League meet on Thursday. Hiawatha's Elizabeth Kettler, runner-up in state cross country last year and the 3200 meter state champion on the track, will highlight the girls race at the Big 7 League meet, also on Thursday at Nemaha Central.

 

Two-time state cross country champion Lakelin Conrad of Wichita Collegiate begins the stretch run to a third title by running in the Arkansas Valley Chisholm Trail League (Div. 4) meet on Thursday. Conrad won the class 3A state title in 2014 and the class 4A state title in 2016. He also won the Blue Division of the Rim Rock Classic for the second time earlier this year.

 

Class 4A has a flood of pretty good runners with a shot at the individual state title. It starts with Independence sophomore Renee Trout, who has the division's best time of 18:51. Trout will run in the Southeast Kansas League championships in Chanute on Thursday.

 

Taylor Briggs of Chapman is the newbie on the class 4A scene. The freshman has a season best of 19:25, the second best in the classification this year. She's scheduled to run in the North Central Kansas League meet Thursday in Marysville.

 

Baldwin has the inside edge for the class 4A state title on the girls side, and they'll kick off the postseason when they host the Frontier League meet on Thursday.

 

Circle's boys' team gets the nod as the state favorite in class 4A. They begin their march to the state meet with the Arkansas Valley Chisholm Trail (Div. 3) meet in Buhler on Thursday.


Among 5A and 6A schools, the Greater Wichita Athletic Conference meet is Saturday at Cessna Activity Center; Garden City hosts the Western Athletic Conference meet on Thursday; and Washburn Rural hosts the Centennial League meet on Saturday.

 

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COACHES AND MEET MANAGERS: Please send results of your league meet to MileSplit Kansas as soon as your meet is over.

 

Please send original electronic files in PDF, Excel or HTML format to Jim Madison, madisonj@westelk.us, and Pat Melgares, melgares@LetsGoRun.com .

 

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