This week, Kansas MileSplit reporter Pat Melgares will preview the state's cross country scene. Today, we look at class 1A boys and girls, and will follow with 2A through 6A throughout the week.
As the 2017 season faded into 2018, Kansas' class 1A boys and girls cross country division got a giant reboot -- with one very notable exception.
Autumn Princ of Sylvan-Lucas heads into her junior year as the two-time defending state champion in the girls division, halfway toward becoming just the tenth four-time state champion in the history of Kansas cross country.
She won the state championship by more than a minute as a freshman and by 1:33 last year. She also won the class 1A 3200 meter run on the track, and has five state titles to her credit in just two years.
Princ is especially dominant in cross country where it is safe to say that she could line up with any girl in any division in Kansas right now and be a force. She clocked a season- and career-best of 18:37 for 5K in winning the class 1A state title at Wamego last year.
But Princ seems to be the only dominating force returning in class 1A this season as the boys' individual title and both team races are wide open heading into a new year.
Beloit-St. John, which cruised to the boys' team title a year ago, lost two of its top three runners and have now fallen back to the rest of the pack. The squad's top runner - two-time state champion David Lutgen - is now running at Kansas State University.
The story is similar in the girls' division where defending state champion Greeley County returns just two runners from a year ago - junior Lauren Crotinger (ninth at state last year) and sophomore Jordyn Bosson (11th at state last year).
All of which sets the 2018 season up for high drama in class 1A cross country.
St. John-Hudson seems to be the preseason favorite for the boys' team title, but there is a possible wrinkle. The Kansas State High School Activities Association is re-aligning its six divisions this fall, and St. John-Hudson, as one of the larger 1A schools, could be moved to class 2A.
The squad was the runner-up in class 1A a year ago, and returns three of its top five from that team - all of whom finished in the top 16 at state. St. John-Hudson also won the 4 X 800 relay at the state track and field championships in May, with three underclassmen.
Beloit-St. John has two key returners in junior Caleb Eilert (fifth at state last year) and junior Brandon Bates (eighth), but may not have the depth to defend its title. Frankfort lost 2017 runner-up Brodric Shirley, but returns five of its top 6 and could challenge for a top three spot.
Collin Oswalt of Central Christian placed third at state last year and is the top individual returning this season. Oswalt, Wallace County's Fischer and Beloit-St. John's Eilert are the early favorites for the individual state title.
As many as five teams could be labeled preseason favorites in girls 1A cross country - and that doesn't even include defending champion Greeley County.
Coldwater-South Central, Caldwell, Ingalls, Tescott and Downs-Lakeside seem to be very similar in that none of those teams have outstanding front runners, yet each has enough depth to put four runners in the top 25 at state. It's quite likely that the 1A girls state title will come down to who wins the finish line battles in the 10th through 25th place finishes.
Individually, this is a strong division for girls. Four of the top five runners from state last year are all back, as well as seven of the top 10, and 13 of the top 20.
Those who could spoil the party for Princ include
Class 1A seems to be a division that is often impacted greatly by freshman runners. We may not get a clear view of how this division will shake out until they toe the line at the state championships in Wamego in late October.