Thanks for the Memories, Kansas Seniors

On the eve of celebrating our independence as a country, let's take a few moments to celebrate the seniors who made the 2017-2018 cross country and track and field seasons special in Kansas.

The risk of doing so, of course, is that I will forget someone. In fact, this story is not about mentioning every senior - or even every one of the 78 seniors who won at least one individual state championship this past season.


Instead, this look back at some of the seniors who made the past sports year memorable in Kansas is simply my take on many of the storylines that made us smile...or maybe even cry.


I strongly urge you to add your own memories, and recognize other seniors not mentioned in this space, by using the comments section at the bottom of this page.


To all Kansas seniors, I say 'Thanks for the Memories' and good luck in your future endeavors, whether or not they include athletics.




The Speedsters


Let's begin with a look at those who thrilled us this year with their speed on the track. Leavenworth's Aarika Lister finished her career as a three-time state champion in the 100 meters and two-time champ in the 200. She won 26 of 29 high school races in the 100, and 20 of 23 in the 200.


When healthy, she has been the dominant female sprinter in this state for the past four years.


Her junior year was derailed by a nagging injury (she still placed second in the 100 at state), and then as a senior, she pulled a muscle in the 4 X 100 relay that kept her from being at her best in the finals of the 200. Then, she did what champions do...


Lister showed up for the finals, knowing that finishing would give her team at least one point. She took off from a standing start, jogging the half-lap to finish eighth. As much as the gold medals defined Aarika Lister's career, that eighth-place finish in her final high school race may have done just as much.


The scene was nearly the same for Liberal's Dusty Torres, who won the class 5A 100 meter title. But after finishing that race, Torres clutched his leg and we found out later that he, too, had suffered an injury that would slow him down in the finals of the 400 and 200 - two events in which he had the top qualifying time out of the prelims.


Obviously dragging one leg, Torres finished eighth in both the 400 and 200. He was gracious to the crowd and his fellow competitors, especially in the 400 where his senior teammate, Austin Mullins, won the state championship in 48.42.


Mullins capped his career with back-to-back-to-back titles in the 400. He also placed second in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles this year.


One sprinter who certainly captured our hearts the past two years was Phillip Landrum of Wichita South.


Landrum was the class 6A state champion in the 100 meters in 2017, winning the title at the same time that his mother, Dorothy, was fighting her own battle with inoperable breast cancer.  He also won the 200 meters in 2017, and anchored Wichita South's winning 4 X 100 relay.


Landrum was fourth in the 100 and third in the 200 this year, but he ran the anchor leg as Wichita South successfully defended its title in the 4 X 100. And Dorothy was in the stands to watch all of it...successfully winning her battle, too.


Christal Mosley of Wichita Southwest was a thrill-a-minute on the track...well, actually a thrill in less than a minute. She set an all-class record in the girls 400 meters, clocking 54.26 in the preliminaries at state this year. She then won the finals by more than 2 seconds, defending the title that she won by one-hundredth of a second in 2017.


Mosley was also a two-time state champion in the 200 meters. And she anchored her team to a win this year in the 4 X 400 meter relay.


Ollie McGee of Wichita Southeast was the state champion in the 200 meters, and was second in a thrilling 100 meter final.


Savannah Simmons of Newton left the state meet this year with a first (4 X 100 relay), second (4 X 400 relay), third (100) and a fourth (200).


Devin Berens of Stanton County won state gold in the 100, 200 and 4 X 100 relay, and he anchored his team to second place in the 4 X 400.


Lane Peters of Pike Valley capped his high school career with state titles in the 100 and 200.


Mercedes Gassmann of Garden Plain won the class 3A 100 meters, and anchored her team to a win in the 4 X 100.


Middle Distance and Distance


Kansas says goodbye to one of the best ever to run distance in this state with the graduation of Shawnee Mission Northwest's Molly Born. She burst onto the scene as a freshman, winning the 1600 and 3200 meter state titles that year, and we followed her journey to becoming a top-ranked runner nationally, overcoming an injury that sidelined her for nearly 9 months, and then a remarkable finish with state titles in the 1600 and 3200 this past May.


All told, Born won eight Kansas state titles - three in the 3200, three in the 1600 and two in cross country. She won eight of 10 state races she ran in her career, and was the Nike Cross Heartland Regional champion in 2016.


She's off to run for Oklahoma State University in the fall, so area fans will likely get to see her again as a member of the Big 12 conference.


McKenzie Wilks of Pittsburg was her equal as far as dominance in the distance events this year. Wilks swept the 800, 1600 and 3200 meter runs, setting a class 5A state record in the 1600 just an hour after running a leg on the 4 X 800 meter relay. Wilks also chased down St. James Academy sophomore sensation Katie Jones in the homestretch to win the 800 meters.


The performance was remarkable, for sure, and even more so considering the hot, humid conditions that the distance runners had to work through at this year's state meet.


Wilks ends her career with six Kansas state titles - three in the 800, two in the 1600 and one in the 3200. She also ran a career best mile of 4:50.68 to finish runner-up at the Festival of Miles, one week after the Kansas state meet. She will run next year at the University of Kansas - another state star that we'll get to see in the Big 12 conference in the years to come.


Lakelin Conrad of Wichita Collegiate finished his senior year in about the best way possible. He won the class 4A cross country state title last fall - the third cross country championship in his career - and followed it up with wins in the 1600 and 3200 in the spring. He's off to Texas Christian University next year after a high school career in which he won six state titles and 11 state medals.


David Lutgen of Beloit-St. Johns swept the class 1A distance titles this year, the first state titles of his high school career. He was a three-time state medalist in cross country and the 3200 meter run, and two-time medalist at 1600 meters.


He'll be teammates at Kansas State University this Fall with Great Bend's Kerby Depenbusch, who won his first state title in the class 5A 3200 meter run. Depenbusch was a nine-time state medalist during his high school years.


El Dorado's Cale Carson finished his senior season as the state's best 800 meter runner, clocking a season-best of 1:53.41. He also won his first-ever title at this year's class 4A state championships, finishing off a year in which he won 9 of 10 races at 800 meters. He also ran the anchor leg on El Dorado's state-winning 4 X 800 meter relay.


Bennington's Halle Johnson will run at Wichita State University in the fall after a high school career in which she dominated the 2A ranks for the better part of two years. At one point, Johnson won five straight races at the state meet, from the 2016 cross country season, through the 2017 track and field and cross country seasons.


She won the 1600 meter run at this year's track and field championships, and was second in the 3200 and 800 meter runs. She was a key force in her team's dominating win in class 2A.


Evan Crotinger of Greeley County (800, class 1A), Luke Oatney of Pleasant Ridge (1600, 3A), Jason Irwin of Bishop Carroll (800, 5A), Mitch Dervin of Mill Valley (1600, 5A), Julian Lacey of Olathe Northwest (800, 6A) and Cooper Schroeder of Manhattan (3200, 6A) also were among those who won their first-ever state titles this season.


Claire Zarybnicky of Hanover was the driving force behind a team title for her school. The senior won the class 1A 1600 meter runs, ran the anchor leg on the winning 4 X 800, was second in the 800, and then ran a leg on the 4 X 400 relay that placed third.


That's some great running, and especially so for an athlete whose school doesn't even have a track to practice on.


Field Events


Two of the greatest field event athletes that our state has ever seen capped their high school careers with memorable performances.


Shawnee Heights' Michael Hoffer won four state titles at this year's 5A championships - the high jump, long jump, triple jump and the 4 X 400 relay. Hoffer finishes with three state high jump titles, and one each in the long jump and triple jump.


He has already excelled on the national level, finishing second in the high jump at the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field championships last year, and winning the indoor high jump national championship at the YES Athletics meet last February.


Olathe North's Dana Baker has some pretty heady national credentials, as well. In mid-July, she won the USATF Junior Track and Field Championships in the javelin, qualifying her for the IAAF World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland later this month. Baker also competed in the USA Track and Field championships against many of the country's best professional and collegiate athletes, finishing 13th.


Before all that, however, Baker was busy re-writing the Kansas high school record book in the javelin. She captured the all-class state record with her third throw of this year's state meet (163-2), then extended the record to 168-8 in the finals.


It was Baker's second consecutive state title in the javelin. She also added state gold in the discus later in the meet. She's off to Duke University where she already will be considered among the best javelin throwers in the NCAA Division I ranks.


Gilbert Peters of South Gray successfully defended his state titles in the shot put and discus in this year's 1A meet. Peters has not been beaten in the discus the past two years, and was beaten only once in the shot put during that time. He is currently ranked No. 51 among all U.S. high school discus throwers.


Sydney Johnson of Beloit roared through her senior year undefeated against Kansas competition, all the way to state titles in the class 3A shot put and discus. Johnson finished the high school season ranked No. 22 in the U.S. in the discus (156-8) and No. 77 in the shot put (44-10).


Valley Heights' Kayla Smith made a bit of history, winning her fourth consecutive triple jump title. She won one of those in class 1A, and the last three years in class 2A. Smith also won a long jump title in 2017.


Her teammate, Skyler Saunders, won a third consecutive high jump title at this year's class 2A meet.


LeeRoi Johnson of Tonganoxie capped a second consecutive undefeated year in the discus, winning his second state title in class 5A.


Markita Swanagan of Leavenworth was also pretty good, winning the shot put and discus in this year's 5A state meet.


McPherson's Elle Barret was also a double winner at this year's state meet, taking the long jump and triple jump in class 4A.


Buhler won the class 4A boys state title on the efforts of a couple of senior standouts, Bradon Rose and Brendan Webb. Rose was the state champion in the javelin and shot put, and placed third in the discus.


Cade Holmes of Shawnee Heights formed a powerful combination in the field events with Hoffer. Holmes was also a state champ, winning the shot put. He and Hoffer had a part in 50 of their team's 79 points, which earned a runner-up trophy for their school.


A pair of Paola Panthers won state titles, too. Samantha Van Hoecke capped her senior season by winning the pole vault, and Elizabeth Pomatto won the javelin. Pomatto's winning throw was 156-11, a top four throw all-time in Kansas.


Bennington's Ryan Stanley (pole vault) and Jaquan Allen (long jump) won state titles, powering their team to a six-point win for the state title.


Shelby Ohlde of Linn cleared 5-10 - the highest jump by a Kansas girl at this year's state meet - to win the class 1A state title in her final high school meet.


Hurdlers Make Their Mark


Abby Smarsh of Andale successfully defended her state title in the class 4A 300 hurdles, and finished third in the 100 hurdles for the second straight year. Smarsh, though, got three titles in her last high school meet, running a leg on Andale's winning 4 X 100 and 4 X 400 relay teams.


Clay Eckert of Buhler had never run in the Kansas State Track and Field Championships until this, his senior year. He made the most of it, winning the 110 hurdles in 14.80.


Toby Penner of Berean Academy won two state titles in class 2A, taking the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles.


Tyler Watts of Caney Valley, who had the top time in Kansas in the 110 hurdles for much of the season, won the 3A state title for the second consecutive year.


Joseph Holthusen of Bishop Carroll was dominant late in the 2018 season, winning his last five races en route to the 5A state title in the 110 hurdles. He also won four of his last five 300 meter hurdle races, including the state title in late May.

Rachel Miller of Lakeside won her third straight state title in the 100 hurdles. Over the past three years, she has won 19 of 21 100 meter hurdles races, never finishing lower than second place.




There were many, many more special moments by seniors this season. Some others that come to my mind include:


Manhattan won the class 6A boys title after finishing runner up in five of the previous eight years. Three seniors played key roles: Clyde King Jr (second in the 200 and 400), Cooper Schroeder (state champ in the 3200) and Logan Logback (third in the 800). Schroeder and Logback were also key to their team's runner-up finish at the state cross country championships last Fall.


Hayden Goodpaster of Shawnee Mission Northwest kept his team in contention in the class 6A boys race until late in the meet. He won the 400 meter title, was fourth in the 200, and anchored the 4 X 400 relay to the state title. Goodpaster, who did not even qualify for state as a freshman or sophomore, won 7 of 8 400 meter races this season.


Hunter Krom of Lawrence finished second in the class 6A boys javelin for the second year in a row. He was oh-so-close to winning a state title in 2017 when he led the competition with just one competitor - and one throw - remaining. Manhattan freshman Sam Hankins unleashed a winning throw to deny Krom, and Hankins won again this year. But it doesn't negate a great career for Krom, whose season best of 204-4 puts him at No. 17 in the United States for the 2018 season.


Kansas City area athletes dominated the field events in the girls 6A state meet this year, and many of them were seniors. Those winning state champions include Toni Englund of Shawnee Mission East (high jump), Abigail Kelly-Salo of Shawnee Mission Northwest (pole vault), Bailey Turner of Olathe East (long jump) and Jessie Stindt of Shawnee Mission East (triple jump).


A story of Courage


Not all champions won gold medals at this year's state meet. Brandon Clark of Olathe North was the 2017 state champion at 800 meters, but finished 14th at this year's meet. If you've followed MileSplit this past season, you may already know the story, but Clark is the runner who suffered a stroke just two days after his Olathe North team won the class 6A state title in cross country.


After a series of scary moments, including a rushed ambulance ride in which Clark admits he didn't think he was going to live, Clark underwent surgery at the KU Medical Center. Doctors informed him he may never walk normally again, much less run - and even much less return to competitive form.


Brandon Clark beat the odds. He returned for his senior season and was the Sunflower League champion in mid-May. The state meet didn't go so well, as he struggled to finish, but Brandon Clark had already won something much bigger.


See my story of Brandon Clark's journey back to the track by clicking here.