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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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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