Circle Boys, Baldwin Girls Look Dominant in 4A

Just in case you were looking forward to a monstrous rematch of two class 4A heavyweights at this year's state cross country meet...uh, well, forget about it!

Andover Central's boys and girls teams - both of which placed second at last year's state meet - enter the 2018 season loaded again, and looked to be right in the mix to challenge Circle's boys and Baldwin's girls for the class 4A state titles.


But the Kansas State High School Activities Association is upping the number of schools in class 5A and 6A by four, which means as many as eight class 4A schools will be moving up to 5A by the time school enrollment counts are made in late September.


That puts Andover Central squarely in the crosshairs of re-alignment. As of last season, the school was the third largest class 4A school in Kansas. It's almost a certainty that it will be one of the schools making the switch to class 5A in 2018.


It leaves what appears to be very little drama for the state team titles in class 4A.


Circle's boys edged Andover Central by five points, and third-place Hugoton - which loses most of its team this season - was 29 points back. There's not a team currently in class 4A that projects to be within 100 points of Circle, which is returning four of its top five from last year, including junior Emmet Keller, who was eighth at the state meet.


It's nearly the same story in the girls' 4A team chase where defending champion Baldwin - which handily beat Andover Central by 31 points last year - returns all seven of the runners who competed at the state meet in 2017.


Basehor-Linwood - which returns four of five runners from the team that placed fourth at state last year -- could be the best of the rest, but like Circle's boys, Baldwin's girls could be 100 points better than the field.


Baldwin's Ambrynn Stewart, fourth at state as a freshman last year, leads her team into the new season. Other state medalists returning for Baldwin include senior Natalie Beiter (eighth at state last year) and sophomore Lauren Russell (16th).


A pair of Chapman runners are the top individuals returning from last year's state meet. Sophomore Taylor Briggs rolled through her first high school season, winning the cross country, 1600 and 3200 meter titles - a perfect 3 for 3 at state last year. Her winning time of 18:46 was one of the top times from last year's state meet, regardless of classification.


Briggs dominated a division where there are a lot of really good and really young runners. In fact the top five runners from last year's state meet are back this year, including junior Renee Trout of Independence (18:57 at state last year), junior Aimee Davis of Clearwater (19:18), Baldwin's Stewart (19:45) and junior Trinity Moore of Louisburg (19:47). Also, look for Darian Hudgeons of Paola to make some noise; she was 13th at the state cross country championships, and also ran well in the track and field championships in May, where she finished fourth in the 3200.


On the boys' side, Chapman senior Aaron Modrow is the top returner from the cross country state meet, where he was fifth a year ago. Modrow was also sixth in the 1600 and seventh in the 3200 at the track and field championships.


He'll have to fight off a solid group of runners, including senior Matthew Oglesby of Galena (seventh at state cross country last year), Circle's Keller (eight), and senior Ethan Fox of Hugoton.


Just four of last year's top 10 from state are back in class 4A boys, and just nine of the top 20. It's a division where a lot of runners will have a good shot at winning the individual state title.


One runner to keep in mind: Jack Thomas of Scott Community, which was a 3A school in 2017 but is on the edge of being moved up to class 4A. Thomas was the class 3A state champion in cross country, but missed the track and field championships presumably due to injury. If Thomas is healthy this fall, he's certainly a contender to add the 4A crown to his resume.