6A State: Team, Individual Races Will be Electric

Do yourself a favor before you head out to watch the class 6A state cross country championships at Rim Rock Farm this year: See a doctor.

In fact, ask him to check your blood pressure and to prescribe some good heart medication because this year's class 6A field is loaded with a ton of talent that will promise to give spectators plenty of heart-thumping moments.


In the class 6A girls race, you will likely see an elite race between up to a half-dozen girls capable of dipping under 19:00 for 5K. One - Washburn Rural's Jaybe Shufelberger - has run 17:59.8 over the Rim Rock course.


Shufelberger did that to win the Rim Rock Classic in September, becoming one of very few Kansas girls ever to win that meet. The senior has enjoyed a breakout year, routinely running in the low to mid-18:30s. The Kansas State University commit is unbeaten in six races this season.


During her impressive 2018 campaign, Shufelberger has head-to-head wins against the defending Kansas state champions from classes 6A, 5A and 4A.


But she also runs in what has become the fastest division for girls' cross country in the state, so she'll have the best of the best trying to chase her down on Saturday.


That includes defending state champ Riley Beach of Blue Valley Northwest, and last year's class 6A runner-up, Clara Mayfield of Manhattan.


Beach burst onto the state's cross country scene as a freshman last year when she won the state title in an impressive time of 18:25, just edging Mayfield for the win. Mayfield has run 18:20 at Rim Rock Farm this year, and is a six-time state medalist in cross country and track and field.


Between those three alone, the class 6A race has tremendous star power; all three girls could dip under 18:00 at Rim Rock. Granted, Kansas has not run 5K for very long, but the state has not seen the likes of that ever. The reality is that running sub-18:00 may be what it takes to get into the top three of the 6A girls race this year.


Katie Schwartzkopf of Mill Valley - the top freshman girl in Kansas this season --  has run 18:26.3, while five other class 6A girls have run faster than 19:00 this season. They include junior Sarah Whitaker of Olathe North (18:45), senior Lily Strauss of Blue Valley North (18:48) senior Katie Kasunic of Shawnee Mission North (18:55.3), freshman Tori Wingrove of Blue Valley (18:54) and junior Bella Call of Blue Valley West (18:59.3).

Twelve girls in class 6A have clocked 19:04 or better in 2018. Twenty girls have run faster than 19:30.


Mill Valley's girls made the jump from class 5A this season, and it meant trouble for teams in class 6A. The Jaguars have proven pretty convincingly to this point in the season to be the best girls' squad in Kansas, evidenced by a third place finish (first Kansas school) at the Rim Rock Classic, and wins at the Eastern Kansas League and last week's regionals.


But Blue Valley West is not making it easy for Mill Valley. Led by Call and senior Kalea Chu (who has a season best of 19:02), Blue Valley West can match Mill Valley's top-end strength, and they were just eight points back at the EKL meet. Their pack times have consistently been under 50 seconds this season, which is a key factor to winning at state.


Olathe North's girls won the Sunflower League championship by 88 points two weeks ago, marking a surge up the state's ranks that lands them squarely as state title contenders. They were second to Blue Valley West at regionals this past weekend, just 14 points back. They're led by juniors Sarah Whitaker and Zoey Schillinger, and freshman Lexie Dockstater.


Manhattan, Shawnee Mission Northwest and Blue Valley Northwest hope to knock off one or more of the leading contenders for a spot on the podium. Last year's state champion and state runner-up -- Shawnee Mission North and Blue Valley North -- aren't in the mix as both failed to qualify for state out of last week's regional meets.


In class 6A boys, Trenton Cochran of Gardner-Edgerton is the defending champion; he also finished as the state runner-up two years ago.


Cochran is an interesting study. He is almost always in the top three of a race, but he doesn't often win those races. This season, for example:


-- Asher Molina of Shawnee Mission North out-ran Cochran at the Sunflower League meet and the Olathe North Twilight;

-- Mill Valley's Jack Terry beat Cochran at the Mill Valley Cat Classic;

-- And, Michael Iyali of Wichita North beat Cochran at last week's regional meet.


In fact, Cochran has won just two races this year, though a common factor every time he's laced the spikes on is that he's right in the mix for the win. That is a familiar script for the head-strong senior. Cochran, quite frankly, runs his best at Rim Rock and specifically at the state 6A meet. The way this season has unfolded for Cochran is so similar to what has transpired for him the last two seasons, that we almost want to give him another title already.


The operative word here is, 'almost...'


 Molina glides pretty smoothly over 5K, while Terry is pretty good at churning a fast early pace into a strong finish. Iyali proved last week that he can run well over hills and he's got a nice finishing kick.

The lead pack is also likely to include Brian Beach and  Jackson Caldwell of Olathe North, Jacob Vermillion of Olathe East, Daniel Harkin of Manhattan and Ben Shryock and  Charlie Johnson of Lawrence Free State.


Yep, a lead pack loaded with talent and speed. For spectators, that's pure drama. Adrenalin junkies will be ecstatic.


Olathe North is the defending champions in class 6A boys and return every runner from last year's team. It has made that squad the easy pick throughout the 2018 season, and not much has changed just a few days before the race is run.


But Mill Valley and Olathe East have the front-runners and packing mentality to give Olathe North a good run. In addition to Terry, Mill Valley's Darius Hightower and Matthew Turner are potential state medalists; while Olathe East's Vermillion, Connor Young and Bryce Kauffman have top 10 potential.


Nothing will be certain in class 6A cross country this season. Once the races are done, you'll have to hold your breath for several heart-shaking moments before the results are posted. Caution -- and possibly a defibrillator -- is advised.