The past 30 years of cross country at St. Thomas Aquinas High School has produced a mind-boggling list of achievements.
17 state champion teams. 12 individual state champs. Nearly three dozen regional titles, and 26 league titles.
For all of that success, there is at least one box left unchecked: Repeat individual state champion in boys cross country.
One of the products of being so good for a lot of years is that you get pretty good seniors. And those seniors win state championships. Then, they graduate and the next wave of runners get their chance to win state titles.
But last year, Aquinas' Ethan Marshall broke the mold. He won the class 5A individual state championship as a junior while leading Aquinas' boys to the program's eighth state title - and their fourth straight.
It puts Marshall in the rare position to repeat as a Kansas class 5A champion, and leave his unique stamp on the St. Thomas Aquinas program.
If he gets it, it should be memorable if the finish of the Eastern Kansas League meet is any indication. In one of the great finish line battles we've seen this season, Marshall out-kicked St. James Academy's Jack Moore in the final 50 meters to win the EKL title by four-tenths of a second.
They both clocked just a shade over 15:40, which ranks among the top 6 or 7 times in the state this season. Marshall has won both head-to-head matchups with Moore this season by a combined total of 4.1 seconds.
The two seniors got a break from each other at regionals - where both won their individual races - but this week they'll meet once again for a 3.1 mile thrill ride across the Rim Rock Farm course.
Are there runners who could spoil the party? You bet, and Sam Hubert of DeSoto is one of those. He's got a season best of 15:53 and placed second to Moore at the Lansing regional last weekend. Hubert also has run sub-16:00 at Rim Rock.
The top 7 boys in class 5A this year are all seniors. Others who could
help push the pace at state this week include Matthew Harding of Bishop Carroll (16:06), John Matulis
of St. James Academy (16:12) and Asher Moen of Andover (16:14).
St. James, Bishop Carroll and Lansing are contenders for podium spots in the boys' race, and possibly a state title if Aquinas slips up.
St. James' boys may have some upfront strength to challenge Aquinas, but I'm not so sure their depth can hold up to the test. St. Thomas Aquinas keeps coming at you with runner after runner, and they certainly seem to be headed for their fifth straight win - which would tie Bishop Carroll for the most consecutive titles in class 5A.
Just the opposite may be true in the girls class 5A race. St. James Academy is the team with great front-runners and awesome depth, while St. Thomas Aquinas is going to have a hard time keeping up.
St. James Academy returns everyone from last year's team that won its' school's first-ever state championship in cross country. Junior Sarah Murrow has the fastest time in class 5A this season (18:51.1) while juniors Katie Moore (19:03) and Hannah Robinson (19:05) and sophomore Mary O'Connor (19:13) are at Nos. 3, 5 and 7.
St. James Academy, though, has been vulnerable this season. Whereas they crushed all Kansas competition en route to the title a year ago, they have had moments this season when they were beaten badly in meets, or in the instance of the Eastern Kansas League meet, couldn't get five runners to the finish line to post a team score.
St. Thomas Aquinas could pounce, if given the opportunity, but they're going to need two-time defending state champion Olivia Sovereign to run well. Sovereign has suffered from the effects of iron deficiency this season, but ran well at the regional meet where she placed second with a season-best of 19:03.8.
Sovereign is the only two-time state champion in girls cross country from Aquinas; a win on Saturday would further cement her spot in school history and make her just the tenth three-time girls state champion ever in Kansas.
Allison Strathman of St. Thomas Aquinas is a key cog in the Saints chances to win the title. Blue Valley Southwest and Bishop Carroll have an outside shot at the title, and are certainly podium contenders.
Sophomore Gigi Loffredo of Blue Valley Southwest (18:54) and freshman Hope Jackson of Bishop Carroll (18:56) are the only 5A girls other than Murrow to run sub 19:00 this season. They'll likely have their say for the individual title, as will Maize South's Alexa Rios, who has a season best of 19:03.
Class 5A Snapshot
Saturday, October 27 at Rim Rock Farm
Boys Start: 10 a.m.
Girls Start: 11:45 a.m.
Defending team champions: St. Thomas Aquinas (boys); St. James Academy (girls)
2018 Kansas MileSplit Predictions:
Boys individual champion: Ethan Marshall, St. Thomas Aquinas
Girls individual champion: Sarah Murrow, St. James Academy
Boys team champion: St. Thomas Aquinas
Girls team champion: St. James Academy