CLASS 5A PREVIEW: Surprise! It's a Wide Open Race for 5A State Titles

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For the first time in several years, uncertainty abounds in Kansas class 5A state cross country.


St. Thomas Aquinas had made the division its personal stomping ground, having won the past five girls and past three boys state championships. It seems like most 5A schools simply thought of late October as an opportunity to get second place.

 

That is most certainly not the case anymore. We have a full-fledged battle for the 5A state titles in Kansas.

 

Let's start with the boys' individual race where 10 runners have posted a 5K time of 16:04 or better this season. Interestingly, half of those 10 have never previously earned a state meet medal.

 

Greg Haynes of Mill Valley has the best time among class 5A runners this season, clocking 15:40 at his team's home meet. But juniors Ethan Marshall and Reece Jones of St. Thomas Aquinas both beat Haynes at the Eastern Kansas League championships two weeks ago and at the regional meet last week.

 

In fact, Marshall has posted the state's top time each of the past two weeks out, clocking 15:47 to win the EKL title, and 15:42 to win the Blue Valley Southwest regional. He's likely the favorite to win the individual title on Saturday, if for no other reason than his positive momentum at the end of the season.

 

He out-ran Dylan Miller of Blue Valley Southwest at the regional meet, but Miller - a senior who was sixth at state last year - put up a career-best time of 15:49 and also is on an upswing just in time for state. Miller also had the fastest time by a Kansas runner at the Rim Rock Classic in late September, clocking 15:58 and beating Marshall.

 

The lead pack at state should be a big one, as the list of contenders for the individual crown this year include Bryce Merriman of Maize South (season best of 15:48); Jack Terry of Mill Valley (15:55); Jack Moore of St. James Academy (15:56), Sam Hubert of DeSoto (15:57); Kerby Depenbusch of Great Bend (16:00); and Nathan Jones of Maize (16:04).

 

If you're looking for a darkhorse, take Great Bend's Depenbusch. He ran 15:39 on the roads this past summer before learning in early July that he had a stress reaction in his foot. It cost him the early part of this season, but he's now got a little over a month's worth of training and racing. His season best came in winning the Bishop Carroll regional last Saturday.

 

Mill Valley's boys have their sights set on snapping St. Thomas Aquinas' state title streak. The Jaguars came within six points of Aquinas at regionals, posting a remarkable pack time of 15 seconds. It will take that kind of effort again, and winning a few finish line battles to get Mill Valley over the top.

 

Aquinas will benefit from the return of senior Andrew Lebourveau, who is coming off injury but was able to run the league and regional meets. Lebourveau was eighth at state last year, but right now sits as the Saints' fifth runner. That's a pretty good runner to be manning the five spot; he could be ready to bust a big race and if he does, the team title may go to Aquinas again.

 

Mill Valley and St. Thomas Aquinas both have seven runners with season bests faster than 17:00. It's that overall talent and depth that separates them from the rest of the contenders.

 

Blue Valley Southwest has the inside track to third place in boys 5A, but Bishop Carroll and Maize South - the class 4A state champs last year - are quite capable of taking the last podium spot.

 

For the girls, St. James Academy and Mill Valley - whose runners have eight of the top 10 times in class 5A this season -- are the pre-meet favorites for the state title. Five-time defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas will do well to grab the third place trophy this year - which may not seem up to the lofty standard they've set for themselves over the years, but it's still pretty darn good.

 

St. James Academy is unbeaten against Kansas teams this season, including an impressive win in the Rim Rock Classic Gold Division in late September. They also rolled to victory the last two weeks in the best league (Eastern Kansas League) and best regional in the state.

 

They beat Mill Valley by 20 points at regionals, posting a 54 second pack time in the process. Sophomores Sarah Murrow (18:51) and Katie Moore (18:57), and freshman Mary O'Connor (19:04) put up a 2-3-4 finish at regionals to key the win.

 

Mill Valley may be better than any other girls team in the state, so what St. James is doing is rather remarkable. Still, if you run a virtual meet of the teams entered in state this weekend, Mill Valley comes out just two points behind St. James for the team title.

 

They'll have to run pretty close to season bests to make the virtual world turn into the real world, but that's what state meets are all about. Mill Valley is led by sophomore Morgan Koca (season best of 19:00) and senior Britton Nelson (19:03).


As good as St. James Academy has been in recent memory, here's something that may surprise you: St. James Academy has never won a team or individual state championship -- boys or girls -- in cross country. However, the school has only been open since 2005.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas, which will be led by returning state champion Olivia Sovereign, will need to fight off Maize South (the class 4A state champs last year) for the third place trophy on Saturday.

 

CLASS 5A SNAPSHOT

 

Boys Teams Competing - Andover, Bishop Carroll, Blue Valley Southwest, Emporia, Great Bend, Lansing, Leavenworth, Maize South, Mill Valley, Newton, Seaman, St. Thomas Aquinas.

 

Girls Teams Competing - Bishop Carroll, Emporia, Lansing, Leavenworth, Maize, Maize South, Mill Valley, Salina South, Shawnee Heights, St. James Academy, St. Thomas Aquinas, Valley Center.

 

Race Times - Class 5A boys at 10:35, Class 5A girls at 12:20 p.m. at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence.

 

Prediction - Team champions St. Thomas Aquinas boys and St. James Academy girls; Individual champions Ethan Marshall of St. Thomas Aquinas and Olivia Sovereign of St. Thomas Aquinas.

 

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