It's not that Roberts isn't fully invested in his own team. It's more about Rutledge having spent most of the season wearing the red and white jersey of Baxter Springs.
Riverton and Baxter Springs have a cooperative agreement in cross country where Rutledge was allowed to train and compete with Baxter Springs during the regular season, but then competes for his own school at regionals and state. It means that Rutledge - who owns the second fastest time (15:31) among all Kansas boys this season - will now don the blue and gold of Riverton for the state meet.
He's already won league and regional titles this postseason and will now gun for the class 3A state championship on Saturday at Rim Rock Farm. Rutledge has been a standout on the track for Riverton, having finished as runner-up in the 1600 (4:34.6) and 3200 (9:376.2) at last spring's class 3A state championships.
The senior is hoping to capture his first state title at this weekend's cross country championships, where he's likely to see familiar faces at the front of the pack.
Galena's Matthew Oglesby and Girard's Cormick Logue finished second and third behind Rutledge at both the CNC League meet and at Saturday's regionals. Oglesby (seventh in class 4A last year) has a season-best of 15:54, and Logue, a sophomore, has run 16:03. Both are capable of putting together a fast one on Rim Rock's rolling hills.
Oglesby and Logue, though, are not even among the top returners in this division. The top five in last year's meet were all underclassmen, though defending state champion Jack Thomas of Scott Community won't be running due to injury.
Kingman seniors Teagan Flanagan (second at state last year) and Robert Pearce (fourth last year and the class 3A state champ in 2016) will toe the line Saturday. Each is capable of taking down Rutledge; Flanagan was third in the 3200 and fourth in the 1600 at last spring's track and field championships, while Pearce has three state titles - two in the 3200 meters to go with his cross country win in 2016.
Justin Hodge of Hiawatha could win the individual title and lead his school to its' first ever boys' team title. He has the second-fastest time in class 3A this season (15:43)
and placed fifth at last year's championship race. Hiawatha will
likely have to fight off Silver Lake, Burlington and Sabetha in the team chase. Silver Lake, in particular, is coming on strong and in fact beat Hiawatha by 18 points at last weekend's regional meet.
A year ago, Hiawatha captured its first state title in girls' cross country, led by a tenth place finish from junior Elizabeth Kettler. She's back for her senior season, and she's posted the fastest time in class 3A girls this year, 19:14. Kettler has three top 10 finishes at state cross country, and is a two-time state champion in the 3200 meter run on the track (2016 and 2017).
But Beloit juniors and twin sisters Hannah and Hayley Burks return after having scored a 1-2 finish at last year's championships. Hannah Burks won the state title by nearly a minute last year, and followed it up with a win in the 3200 meters last spring. She's run in the top 3 of all of her meets this season, against competition that has featured the top runners in classes 1A through 4A.
Hannah Burks survived a tough battle with Lexi Kats of Norton Community and Lara Murdock of Colby at last weekend's regionals. Burks won the race at 19:19, but Kats was right behind in 19:26 and Murdock third at 19:29.
The class 3A girls' field promises to be loaded, as 18 of the top 20 finishers from last year's state championships are back. Hiawatha's girls -- led by Kettler and sophomore Kate Madsen (14th at state last year) - are favored to repeat as state champs, but the top five teams seem very close, including Rock Creek, Scott Community, Sabetha and Clay Center.
Rock Creek is especially intriguing. The squad has flown completely under the radar the entire 2018 season before posting a convincing 15--point win over Hiawatha at regionals. The squad is not blessed with great front-runners, but when they come, they come in waves. They have a Pack Attack mentality that could be the right formula at the often-frenzied state meet.
Hiawatha seems to have the best front-end strength. Scott Community and Clay Center are also good at packing up its runners - routinely around 1:00. Expect the class 3A girls state title to be decided by how many runners these teams can land between 10th and 30th places.
Class 3A Snapshot
Saturday, October 27 at Rim Rock Farm (Lawrence)
Boys Start: 12:20 p.m.
Girls Start: 10:35 a.m.
Defending team champions: Halstead (boys); Hiawatha (girls)
2018 Kansas MileSplit Predictions:
Boys individual champion: JP Rutledge, Riverton
Girls individual champion: Hannah Burks, Beloit
Boys team champion: Hiawatha
Girls team champion: Hiawatha