Splechter, Thompson highlight Class 2A X-C

It might be tempting to assume that Yates Center's Hadley Splechter's senior year will be a cakewalk through the class 2A ranks this cross country season. But, that could be a big mistake.

No doubt, Splechter is pretty darn good. He's a six-time state champion and currently holds every class 2A middle distance and distance state title from 800 meters through cross country. Not many would argue if you said Splechter is the best distance runner in the state of Kansas right now - regardless of classification.


But, lo and behold, class 2A is no cinch for Splechter.


Ethan Thompson of Meade has a pretty hefty resume, as well. He finished just 13 seconds back of Splechter at last year's state cross country championships, and was the runner-up to Splechter in both the 1600 and 3200 on the track.


In those three state meet races combined, Thompson was just 20 seconds behind Splechter for the three state titles. Thompson is a 10-time state medalist in his high school career, and has a career-best of 15:45.22 in cross country.


That makes for a pretty great storyline as these two move toward the state championships in late October. Even if they don't meet directly on the course during the regular season, the thought of having someone breathing down your neck may help to up the intensity of workouts and races for both.


Individually, class 2A boys cross country has seven of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 rom state returning this year. Highlighting the returners are Henry Nelson of Bishop Seabury (fourth) and Nicholas Martisko of Inman (fifth).


Splechter became the first-ever state cross country champion from Yates Center when he won the individual title last year, and the Wildcats also won the school's first-ever team title.


But Yates Center has graduated half of the squad that won a year ago, so the team chase becomes wide open once again.


Stanton County could be the team in the best position to chase the state title. The squad was third at the state meet last year, and returns six of seven - including all of their top 5 for this season.


Stanton County's boys have won eight state titles in the school's history, but none since 2004. That 14-year stretch is the longest dry spell for Stanton County since winning its' first-ever boys' state title in 1984.


Perennial contender Bennington will be strong again, though the Bulldogs lost four runners from last year's team that finished second at state. Junior Keelan Aita was tenth at state last year and should lead Bennington's push to win the title this season.


Skyline and Kansas City Christian highlight the other contenders on the boys' side.


Two-time defending champion Bennington certainly has to be considered a pre-season favorite for the class 2A girls state title, though for the first time in four years, they will be without standout Halle Johnson.


Johnson was the class 2A state cross country champion last year, during a high school career in which she collected five state titles. She is now a freshman at Wichita State University.


But Bennington returns three of the top 10 runners from last year's state meet in sophomore Peyton Piepho (fourth at state), junior Chloe Stanley (sixth) and senior Kya Johnson (tenth). Kya Johnson - Halle's younger sister - was the 2015 class 2A state champion as a freshman.


Three teams - Bishop Seabury, Berean Academy and Lyndon - hope that the dropoff from Bennington's top three is severe. Those three schools seem to be the top contenders to take away the title from Bennington.


The bulk of last year's top 20 finishers at state are back, including eight of the top 10, and 17 of the 20. Sophomore Jaycee Vath of Lincoln - the state runner-up last year as a freshman - and senior Helen Giefer of Trego Community (third last year) are the top returners.


Last year, Vath and Giefer were just three seconds apart at state. Giefer pulled off a surprise at the state track and field meet last May, out-running Halle Johnson for the 3200 meter title -- her first-ever state championship. She was also the runner-up in the 1600 (behind Johnson). Vath placed third in both the 1600 and 3200.


Erin Topham of Berean Academy rounds out the top returners from last year's top five. She was also fifth in the class 2A 3200 meters at the state track championships in May.