CLASS 1A STATE PREVIEW: Can St. John-Beloit Put up a Perfect Score?

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On one hand, spectators at this year's class 1A state cross country championships could take a ho-hum attitude to what is expected to be a pretty predictable meet.


Or you could get really pumped up about some pretty special athletes about to take the course.


I'm choosing the latter, because I've seen David Lutgen of St. John-Beloit and Autumn Princ of Sylvan-Lucas in action. They are the prohibitive favorites to win individual state titles when the state championships take place this Saturday in Wamego.


Lutgen, a senior, has the best time in class 1A this season, but more than that, he has run well against good competition this season. He placed third in the Rim Rock Farm Classic's Blue Division in late September, battling shoulder-to-shoulder with class 4A state champion Lakelin Conrad of Wichita Collegiate, and class 2A state meet favorite Hadley Splechter of Yates Center.


At last week's regional meet at Washington County, Lutgen defeated the guy with the next-best time in class 1A -- Frankfort's Brodric Shirley -- by 41 seconds.


Princ is even more dominating among 1A girls. She won the 1A state title as a freshman last year, and followed up with state titles in the 1600 and 3200 on the track. She won her regional by more than a minute and half, and has a season-best time of 18:42; nobody else in class 1A has a season best better than 20:00 this season.


There is some drama in the team races, however.


The girls 1A title appears to be a three-team battle between Greeley County, South Central, and Ingalls. Wallace County could sneak on to the podium if either of those three teams has an off day. The teams have posted similar average times throughout the season, but South Central has put together pack times in the one minute range, which may give that team a slight advantage.


The drama in the boys' race is not so much who will win, but how they will win. Lutgen and his St. John teammates are the power brokers and the defending state champions in this division, and the biggest question is whether they could post a perfect team score en route to victory.


I hate to possibly jinx anybody, because the race needs to be run, but after Lutgen, St. John-Beloit has three standouts in senior Adam Bates, sophomore Brandon Bates, and freshman Caleb Eilert. Those three have the fourth through sixth best times in class 1A this season, and they had four of the top five at last week's regional meet.


The runner who broke up their perfecto at regionals was Frankfort's Shirley, a senior who does have an outside shot at catching even Lutgen. Shirley has run 16:24 for 5K this season, just 11 seconds off Lutgen's best time. And Central Christian's Collin Oswalt, who has a season best of 16:47, could also stand in the way of a perfect team score for St. John.


The closest pursuers for St. John-Beloit in the team race appear to be St. John-Hudson, Frankfort and Wallace County. St. John-Hudson won the state championship in class 2A last year, scoring a thrilling one-point win over Stanton County. However, barring disaster for St. John-Beloit, those three teams appear to be running for second place.


Robyn Selzer of Wallace County has the second-best time in class 1A girls this season (20:09). She is a seven-time state medalist in cross country and track and field who was second at the state cross country meet in 2015 and third last year. She will likely battle with Axtell sophomore Olivia Kuckelman -- who was the runner-up to Princ at this past weekend's regional meet -- for the silver medal at state.


CLASS 1A SNAPSHOT


Boys Teams Competing -- Axtell, Central Christian, Centralia, Frankfort, Greeley County, South Central, South Gray, St. John-Beloit, St. John-Hudson, Stafford, Victoria, Wallace County.


Girls Teams Competing -- Caldwell, Centralia, Frankfort, Greeley County, Ingalls, Lakeside, Lebo, Otis-Bison, Pretty Prairie, South Central, Tescott, Wallace County.


Race Times: 1A girls at 11:10 a.m.; 1A boys at 12:55 p.m. at the Wamego Country Club.


Prediction: Team champions St. John-Beloit boys and South Central girls; Individual champions David Lutgen of St. John-Beloit and Autumn Princ of Sylvan-Lucas.


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