CLASS 6A STATE PREVIEW: Many Contenders for Team, Individual Titles

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I'm thinking that Forrest Gump could be the spokesperson for the Kansas class 6A cross country championships this Saturday at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence.

You know, something along the lines that this year's meet is "like a box of chocolates,..." Ah, you know the rest.


Truth be told, you just don't know what you're gonna get in 6A this season. There are a host of teams and individuals that should have high hopes for state titles this week, but not much seems certain even a couple days before the gun goes off.


A couple weeks ago, Blue Valley North seemed like a pretty sure bet for the 6A girls title. But then came along Olathe North to put a scare into Blue Valley North at the regional meet last Saturday.


Blue Valley North did win that meet by eight points, but it was about as close as any class 6A team had been to them for the past five weeks of the season. And over in the Shawnee Mission Northwest Regional, Shawnee Mission North was putting up a score of 21 points to win handily.


So, there is certainly a three-team race -- at least -- in the 6A girls division this year.


Blue Valley North would still seem to be the favorite entering Saturday's race. Senior Sophie Scott ran 18:24 early this season, the top time in 6A girls, while junior Lily Strauss has a season best of 18:42 and was fifth in the 6A meet last year.


If you're Blue Valley North, however, Shawnee Mission North is another scary team to contend with. Junior Katie Kasunic (19:08) and senior Cassie Raines (19:33) posted a 1-2 finish at regionals, and the rest of the top five got in under 20:11. The squad had five of the top seven finishers, and seven of the top 12.


Shawnee Mission North could have a little extra incentive to get the state title after finishing second last year.


Olathe North is led by Claire Fuhlhage, whose season-best of 18:48 is the fifth fastest time among 6A girls.


Blue Valley West is a darkhorse in the 6A girls team chase. They have a pair of excellent lead runners in sophomore Sophie Call (18:47 this season) and junior Kalea Chu (18:52), but will need a little more push from their 3-5 runners to make a run at the podium.


Individually, Blue Valley Northwest freshman Riley Beach has been making some noise in class 6A circles the past two weeks. First, she won the tough Eastern Kansas League title, then followed it up with a victory over Blue Valley North's Scott and Strauss; and Blue Valley West's Call and Chu at the regional meet.


Beach won that regional meet in a time of 18:28, just four seconds back of Scott's season-best time.


Of the girls' contenders, Blue Valley West's Call has run the fastest at Rim Rock, clocking 18:59 for sixth place in the Rim Rock Classic Gold Division in late September. Manhattan's Clara Mayfield - a powerful runner who won league and regional titles the past two weeks - was seventh in that same race with the second-best time at Rim Rock among class 6A girls, 19:07.


The race for the boys' individual title is wide open. There have been 16 class 6A boys who have run faster than 16:30 this season, and 47 that have dipped under 17:00.


There are also four that have broken 16:00 in class 6A boys. Manhattan senior Cooper Schroeder has the best time in Kansas this year, finishing third in 15:38.56 at the Missouri Southern Stampede in mid-September. The week after that, he ran 16:13 at the Rim Rock Classic, which stands as the fastest time by a 6A boy on the Rim Rock course this season.


Brian Beach of Olathe North (15:42), Joseph Coddington of Shawnee Mission North (15:46) and Trent Cochran of Gardner-Edgerton (15:46) are the other top contenders.


But all four of the runners who have gone under 16:00 have also had an off week this season in which their time was more than a minute slower than their season best. So you tend to wonder, which runner will we see when the gun goes off on Saturday?


Olathe East's Ben Kahnk, who has a season-best of 16:10, should be part of the mix because he has been among the most consistent runners in class 6A this season. His times have hovered around the low- to mid-16:00's for much of the year. He finished third at regionals in a wild sprint against Cochran and Beach - just two seconds separated the three.


Among class 6A boys, Cochran -- the state runner-up in 6A last year -- has the second best Rim Rock time of 16:27.


Among 6A boys' teams, you could flip a coin between Shawnee Mission North and Olathe North winning the boys' title. Each team has a front-runner in the mix, as well as a pack of teammates capable of running under 17:00.


Shawnee Mission North didn't even qualify for state last year, but has had a great month of running in October to put itself squarely in the state title picture. Olathe North has been a hot pick all season long. This is a case where the team title comes down to who puts together the best pack and who wins important finish-line battles.


Manhattan, Olathe East and Olathe South are podium contenders, as well. Olathe East won its' schools' first-ever state championship in boys' cross country last year, and returns a solid core from that team. They looked especially good in last week's regional meet, where they were just 11 points behind Olathe North for the team title.




Boys Teams Competing - Dodge City, Garden City, Manhattan, Olathe East, Olathe North, Olathe South, Shawnee Mission North, Shawnee Mission Northwest, Shawnee Mission West, Washburn Rural, Wichita North, Wichita West.


Girls Teams Competing - Blue Valley North, Blue Valley West, Dodge City, Garden City, Lawrence Free State, Manhattan, Olathe North, Shawnee Mission North, Shawnee Mission South, Shawnee Mission West, Washburn Rural, Wichita East.


Race Times - 6A girls at 10 a.m., 6A boys at 11:45 a.m. at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence.


Prediction - Team champions Olathe North boys and Blue Valley North girls; Individual champions Cooper Schroeder of Manhattan and Riley Beach of Blue Valley Northwest.