CLASS 4A STATE PREVIEW: Team, Individual Titles Up for Grabs in Drama-Filled 4A Meet

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The class 4A meet at this week's Kansas cross country championships is dripping with so many storylines, that it's hard to pick just one.


Check these out for good measure:

** Wichita Collegiate senior Lakelin Conrad will try to become just the ninth runner in Kansas history to win three cross country championships. He won the 3A title in 2014 and the 4A title last year.

** Tradition-rich Baldwin will be running for the school's 23rd title in cross country, but they'll have to fight off a rising Basehor-Linwood team that fell just a point short of beating Baldwin at regionals.

** Girard coach Matt Logue has gotten used to bringing home a state champion the past four years as his daughter, Cailie Logue, became the fifth Kansas girl to win four consecutive cross country titles. Cailie now runs for Iowa State, but Matt has his boys' team in line for a legitimate shot at the state title.

** Cailie Logue's graduation leaves the door open for a new crop of star runners. Last year's runner-up, Aimee Davis of Clearwater, is back, but she's not the favorite. Rather, Independence's Renee Trout seems to be the new dominating force in girls 4A.


For Conrad, the Wichita Collegiate star, the path to a third title seemed to be a bit more hazardous entering the season. But Jack Thomas of Scott Community, who has a season PR of 16:05, was moved to class 3A with the late September enrollment count in Kansas; and last year's top returner - Calvin Shannon of Smoky Valley - decided not to run cross country this season.


He'll still have to deal with Hugoton's Abraham Garcia, who was fourth in class 3A last year and hasn't finished lower than third in a race this season; and El Dorado's Cale Carson, who gave Conrad a good run before settling for second at last week's regional meet.


Something I've seen about Conrad: he's got the "it" factor. He tends to bear down when he needs it, such as at the Rim Rock Classic in late September when he surged in the last half-mile to beat Hadley Splechter of Yates Center (the favorite in class 2A cross country this year) and David Lutgen of St. John-Beloit (the class 1A favorite this year).


Kyler True of Olpe became the eighth Kansas boy to win three titles when he captured the class 1A title last year. Before that, you'd have to go back to 2006 when Fredonia's Lane Boyer completed the hat trick. The first Kansas runner ever to win three titles was Haskell's Billy Mills, from 1954-1956. No Kansas boy has ever won four cross country titles.


There are seven other runners in class 4A boys that have run under 17:00 this season, so winning this race isn't going to be easy for anyone. There's likely to be a sizable pack near the front for much of the race.


In class 4A girls, Trout is the girl to beat after a season in which she won all but one race - she placed second to Bennington's Halle Johnson in the Rim Rock Classic Blue Division in late September. Johnson, you may know, has the state's top 5K time for Kansas girls this season, 18:11.


Trout is relentless, and experienced. She beat Clearwater's Davis by nearly two minutes at the El Dorado regional last weekend. Davis, who clocked 18:15 as a freshman last year, has been slowed this season by injury.


Trout and Davis, both sophomores, lead an army of young runners in class 4A girls. Chapman freshman Taylor Briggs has the division's second-best time of the season, 19:25. Morgan Dierks of Sumner Academy and Claire Lieb of Trinity Academy are juniors with top five times in class 4A. And freshman Ambrynn Stewart of Baldwin leads her team with a season best of 19:46 - fourth best in 4A.


Ah, yes, Baldwin...lest you forget, this is the school that has won 22 state championships since 1993 - 13 boys' titles and nine girls' titles. They were strangely absent from the podium at last year's state meet, but they likely will return with a vengeance this year.


In Stewart, the Bulldogs have a potential top five finisher, and junior Natalie Beiter is a potential top 10 finisher. That could very well be the key to Baldwin's title run, as the rest of the crew can match up with Basehor-Linwood.


For Basehor-Linwood, they need to pack 'em in - quickly. They put up a 41 second pack time at regionals and just about caught Baldwin, but fell one point short of the team title. Basehor-Linwood could put five girls in the top 25, and if they do, the team race will get very interesting.


Last year's state runner-up Andover Central is likely to join the party, too, as will Fort Scott, Buhler and Bishop Miege. Those teams are capable of placing in the top three, but going into this meet, don't seem to have the front-running power or pack to close the deal against Baldwin.


But, then again, that's why they run the races...


The boys' team title is a dogfight that Girard decided to join this year. Circle's boys are the pre-meet favorite; they were fourth at this meet last year, and returned five of seven from that team. They have been consistent all season, and have won against the best in the division, including a one-point win over Andover Central at last week's regional.


Circle relies on a pack mentality, with five runners typically within 40-45 seconds. Lead runner Avery Stuever was third at the regional meet last week, and could be a top 10 finisher at state.


Girard has a pair of runners capable of finishing in the top 10 in senior Ryan Hughes and freshman Cormick Logue - yes, the son of Matt and brother to Cailie. Hughes has a season best of 16:49 while Logue has run 16:56 - the top freshman time in class 4A this season.


Caution: don't forget about Hugoton or Andover Central. Hugoton won the class 3A title last year and with lead runner Garcia, they have the firepower to score low. Andover Central was third at class 4A state last year and just about took down Circle at regionals.


CLASS 4A SNAPSHOT

Boys Teams Competing - Andover Central, Baldwin, Circle, El Dorado, Girard, Hayden, Hugoton, Iola, Ottawa, Smoky Valley, Tonganoxie, Wamego.

Girls Teams Competing - Anderson County, Andover Central, Baldwin, Basehor-Linwood, Bishop Miege, Buhler, Chapman, Circle, Fort Scott, Hugoton, Louisburg, Wichita Trinity.

Race Times - Class 4A girls at 10 a.m., class 4A boys at 11:45 a.m. at the Wamego Country Club.

Prediction - Team champions Circle boys and Baldwin girls; Individual champions Lakelin Conrad of Wichita Collegiate and Renee Trout of Independence.


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