CLASS 5A TRACK AND FIELD PREVIEW: Star power abounds as familiar foes get ready to battle

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You can pick any event in track and field, and at its highest level, it is speed and power and grace weaved together into a beautiful dance.


And that, my friends, is your official welcome to Kansas Class 5A track and field, where the talent is abundant and the competition is fierce. If you're an adrenaline junkie, you likely got your fix at last year's class 5A state meet, which saw numerous close finishes and many of the best marks in the state.


That's not even to mention the battle for team supremacy, which was pretty great in itself. Newton's girls rode their sprint dominance to 84 points and the state title, but there were three other teams that scored 67 points or more -- a number that should have been good enough to win the big gold trophy in most years.


Furthermore, not counting the hurdling events, every 2017 5A girls' state champion from 100 meters to 3200 meters is back this season.


The highlight in Class 5A girls should be the next chapter in a budding rivalry between Newton sprinters Kalli Anderson and Savannah Simmons, and Leavenworth's Aarika Lister.


Anderson, now a junior, won the 100 meters last year after posting a time of 11.98 in the prelims and 12.09 in the finals -- both the fastest times among all Kansas girls at last year's state meet.


Lister, a senior, clocked 11.98 to win the 100 meter state title as a sophomore, but she battled nagging injuries a year ago and settled for second to Anderson in 12.21.


Simmons pulled off the feat in the 200, winning in a solid 24.82, while Lister was third.


Lister is undoubtedly the greatest challenge to the Newton duo's continued dominance in the short sprints. The Leavenworth star ran sub-12 seconds for 100 meters in nine races during her sophomore season -- but failed to get under 12 seconds even once last year.


If she's back to full form this season, the 100 and 200 meter sprints could be standing room only excitement at this year's state meet. Let's just hope that the three stars get a chance to meet at some point during the regular season, too.


Anderson and Simmons are key to what looks like another dominating Newton team entering the 2018 season. They will also team up in the 4 X 100 meter relay, an event Newton won last year and seems to have no equal in Class 5A at the moment.


Junior Maggie Remsberg has a chance to light up the scoreboard, too. She placed second at state in the 100 hurdles last year, and enters the season ranked No. 1 in that event. She's also a preseason No. 2 in the 300 hurdles and long jump.


Also for Newton, senior Taylor Antonowich heads into the 2018 season with the second best time among returners in the 400 meters; and junior Amanda Dorrell is a top-five contender in the discus and shot put.


St. James Academy's girls -- the Class 5A runner-up last year -- have a shot to dethrone Newton, but they'll be doing it in a different way. St. James won the girls cross country championship last fall -- the first ever in that school's history -- and could rack up big points in the 800, 1600 and 3200.


Sophomore Sarah Murrow is the defending state champ in the 3200 meter run, and she's also a top-three contender in the 1600. Sophomore Katie Moore enters the season with the No. 2 time in Class 5A in the 800.


Emma Gossman of St. James is the defending state champion in the 400, and is a state medal contender in the 200 and long jump. Sophomore Hannah Wallin (long jump and triple jump) and senior Mary Goetz (high jump) should score points in their events.


Pittsburg (third at state last year) and Mill Valley (fourth at state last year) also are strong contenders for the Class 5A girls state title this year.


Pittsburg's star power in girls track and field is pretty impressive. Senior McKenzie Wilks is the defending state champion in the 800 and 1600, and sophomore Faith Turner is a four-event star who should score state points -- or even win an individual title -- in the triple jump, long jump, 100 and 200. High jumper Laken Robinson, a sophomore, will likely challenge for the state title this year.


Mill Valley is a lot like St. James Academy. The school was runner-up to St. James at the cross country championships, so it's no surprise that they are solid in the distance events with Delaney Kemp, Britton Nelson, Mary Nelson, Molly Haymaker and Morgan Koca all capable of scoring at state. The depth certainly allows the Jaguar to cover all of the distance events plus the 4 X 800 relay and yet keep their stable of runners fresh.


The Class 5A boys track and field landscape got rocked when St. Thomas Aquinas superstar hurdler Noah Green -- who won the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles at state last year -- moved to Texas for his senior season. It took St. Thomas from being a comfortable favorite to repeat as state champions to one of the teams that will have to fight tooth and nail just to get to the podium.


And, it probably makes Bishop Carroll and Liberal as the preseason favorites in Class 5A boys this year.


Bishop Carroll was second to Aquinas a year ago, and this year they'll go to work with likely the best pole vaulting unit in the state. Junior Ethan Hull, sophomore Brian Simon and junior Augustine McCormick enter the spring season with the top three marks among Class 5A returners in the event. Should they hold serve on those marks, that's 24 points for a 1-2-3 finish at state.


But all of Carroll's eggs are not in one proverbial basket. Senior Jason Irwin is the defending state champion in the 800, senior Austin Mernagh has the second-best mark in the high jump among Class 5A returners, and junior Jack Ebright sits No. 2 in the triple jump as the season begins.


Bishop Carroll also has top-three contenders in senior Joseph Holthusen (110 hurdles and 300 hurdles), senior Thomas Helten (triple jump) and junior Matthew Harding (1600 and 3200).


Liberal will counter with a couple guys who can just flat out fly. Senior Austin Mullins is the defending state champion in the 400, and has the top times among all returners in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles. Senior teammate Dusty Torres is ranked in the top three among Class 5A returners in the 100, 200 and 400.


If you're looking for a couple darkhorses in Class 5A boys, look to Shawnee Heights and Leavenworth. Shawnee Heights' Michael Hoffer is the defending state champion in the high jump; he cleared 6-8 at state last year, and less than two months ago, cleared 7-0 at the Jayhawk Indoor Open held at the University of Kansas.


Leavenworth speedster Anthony Gould, a junior, is as good as anyone in the Class 5A field. He was second in the 100 and third in the 200 at last year's state championships, but enters this season ranked No. 1 in both of those events. Get ready this season for a lot of newspaper headlines playing off his last name.


Class 5A girls returning champions

100 -- Kalli Anderson, Newton

200 -- Savannah Simmons, Newton

400 -- Emma Gossman, St. James Academy

800 -- McKenzie Wilks, Pittsburg

1600 -- Wilks, Pittsburg

3200 -- Sarah Murrow, St. James Academy

Pole vault -- Hannah Buller, Goddard

Long jump -- Ryleigh Jackson, Eisenhower

Javelin -- Halie Brown, Arkansas City


Class 5A boys returning champions*

400 -- Austin Mullins, Liberal

800 -- Jason Irwin, Bishop Carroll

High jump -- Michael Hoffer, Shawnee Heights


* Note: Noah Green, who competed for St. Thomas Aquinas in 2017, was the state champion in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles, but has moved out of state for his senior season.


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