Kansas Runners Punch Tickets to State

The best of the best in Kansas cross country were put to their most important test of the 2018 season on Saturday, as more than 2,500 runners toed the line at 23 regional meets across the state.

At stake: team and individual berths for the Kansas State Cross Country championships, which take center stage less than a week from now in Wamego and Lawrence.

If you're a high school cross country fan, this is the greatest time of year, and the state's runners put on quite a show on a day that turned out to pretty ideal for weather.

One team passed the test with flying colors. In fact, Lincoln's girls were perfect, posting a score of 10 points to win the class 1A Washington County regional. Sophomore Jaycee Vath clocked 19:31 to win the race by a full minute, setting her up for next week's state meet where she is the prohibitive favorite in class 1A girls.

The fastest boy and girl in Kansas so far this season both moved on to state on Saturday. Yates Center's Hadley Splechter (season best of 15:18) won the class 2A Burlington regional, and Washburn Rural's Jaybe Shufelberger (season best of 17:59) won the class 6A Manhattan regional.

Shufelberger and Manhattan's Clara Mayfield charged together through the hilly Warner Park course for just a little more than 4000 meters before Shufelberger pulled away to win in 18:09. Mayfield led her squad to the team victory with a second place finish in 18:33.

Also in Manhattan, Wichita North's Michael Iyali scored an impressive win, out-kicking Gardner-Edgerton's Trenton Cochran to finish in 15:52. Cochran, the class 6A state champ last year, placed second in 15:55. Lawrence Free State earned the team title, led by freshman Ben Shryock (fourth in 16:23) and junior Charlie Johnson (fifth, 16:27).

There was plenty of drama at Johnson County Community College where three regionals were held.

In the class 6A Blue Valley North regional, defending state champion Olathe North's boys put six runners in the top 10 to stomp their way into the state meet. Senior Brian Beach, one of the top contenders for the individual title this week, won the regional, leading seven Olathe North runners who clocked 16:49 or better.

Riley Beach of Blue Valley Northwest, who won the class 6A girls state title a year ago, beat the field at the Blue Valley North regional in a solid time of 18:25. Her team grabbed the third and final spot into the state meet, denying a good Blue Valley North team in what some would consider a mild shocker; Blue Valley North had several runners back from last year's team that had placed second in class 6A.

Kalea Chu was fifth (19:04) and Sophie Call was sixth (19:07) to lead Blue Valley West to the regional title.

Easily the most shocking news of the week in class 6A was that Shawnee Mission North missed out on state berths for both of its boys and girls teams - by a combined total of three points.

The boys squad actually tied with Shawnee Mission West for the third spot with 92 points, but West's sixth runner - Ryan Barnum - handed his team the state berth by out-running North's sixth runner by four seconds.

Shawnee Mission's North's girls won the class 6A state title last year, but they will not be back to defend the crown. They were edged for third place by three points by Olathe Northwest. They will, however, be represented by senior standout Katie Kasunic, who placed second on Saturday in 18:48.

Mill Valley's boys and girls are considered strong contenders for 6A state titles, and they showed exactly why they've risen to that lofty status. The girls' squad had a near-perfect 19 points to win by 62 over Shawnee Mission Northwest, and the boys followed with a 24 point win - also over Shawnee Mission Northwest.

Mill Valley freshman Katie Schwartzkopf continued her impressive debut season, winning the regional title in 18:34.1. Shawnee Mission North's Katie Kasunic was second in 18:48, followed by a 3 through 6 finish by Mill Valley - Morgan Koca (19:13), Molly Haymaker (19:17), Molly Ricker (19:31) and Delaney Kemp (19:35).

Asher Molina of Shawnee Mission North won the boys' regional title, beating 14 runners who clocked sub-17:00 on the day.

Also at Johnson County Community College, St. Thomas Aquinas swept the class 5A boys' and girls' regional titles. The boys will shoot for their fifth consecutive state title, which would tie Bishop Carroll for the longest winning streak ever in class 5A.

Aquinas' Ethan Marshall will also be shooting to become the first-ever repeat state champion from his school. The senior cruised to the regional title Saturday in 16:02.

Blue Valley Southwest sophomore Gigi Loffredo ran a career-best 18:54 and beat defending class 5A champion Olivia Sovereign of St. Thomas Aquinas to win the regional title. Loffredo's team was the regional runner-up.

St. James Academy's girls squashed any remaining signs of trouble, dominating the class 5A Lansing regional. A week after failing to get five runners to the finish line of the Sunflower League championships, the Thunder put five in the top 9 at regionals for 29 points and a 36-point win over Shawnee Heights.

St. James, which won its school's first-ever state championship in cross country last year, got a 1-2-3 finish from Sarah Murrow (19:16), Mary O'connor (19:20) and Hannah Robinson (19:38).

Jack Moore of St. James won the boys' regional title in 15:45, leading his team to a narrow seven point win over Lansing.

In a mild class 3A shocker, Rock Creek's girls beat defending state champion Hiawatha by a comfortable 15-point margin. Hiawatha had three of the top four finishers, but Rock Creek put six runners ahead of Hiawatha's fourth to key the win.

Hiawatha's boys, also a solid contender for a class 3A state crown, were beat by a hungry Silver Lake team, which scored 65 points to Hiawatha's 83. Riley County's Brett Kulp won the race in 16:44 and Hiawatha's Justin Hodge was second in 16:53; both could finish in the top 5 at state this week.

Sabetha sophomore Hattie Lukert won the regional title on her home course, edging Hiawatha's Elizabeth Kettler, who had run the fastest time in class 3A girls this season.

Interesting stuff in the class 6A Wichita East regional where eight of the top 11 finishers in the girls' race were all freshmen. Wichita East's Eva McKinzie (19:17) won by more than a minute over another freshman, Derby's Vivian Kalb (20:23). Dodge City - with three freshmen among the scoring five - scored 57 to win by 12 points over Derby, which was led by two freshmen and a sophomore.

Wichita East's boys beat Dodge City for the regional title, led by a 1-2 finish from Will Clayton (16:35) and Eliu Ramirez (16:40). But it was Heartbreak City for one western Kansas team - Garden City - which finished fourth in both the boys' and girls' divisions.

Across town, another pretty good freshman was winning the class 5A Bishop Carroll regional. Hope Jackson led the host team to the regional title, winning the race in 19:20. Goddard-Eisenhower was second while Maize South nudged out cross-town rival Maize for the final spot to state.

Britt Magnuson of Maize South won the boys' individual title. Bishop Carroll's boys also won the regional title.

Eudora knows the pain of just missing out on a state berth. The boys' squad finished fourth in the class 4A Lansing regional after tying Bishop Miege with 80 points. But Miege's sixth runner - Mark Patterson -- finished higher, sending his team to state instead.

There was a great team battle in the class 1A Greeley County regional. South Gray's girls won a nailbiter with 39 points, just ahead of Macksville (42) and Kiowa County (44). The difference in that team race came down to just a few seconds, but all three teams get the chance to do it again at state this week.

At the class 1A Washington County regional, Pike Valley missed out on a spot at state by a single point. Clifton Clyde finished third with 62 points, and Centralia got the fourth spot at 63, while Pike Valley had 64. The respective fourth runners on those teams finished exactly one place apart - 23rd, 24th and 25th, which was the difference in the team standings.

A pair of favorites for class 4A state titles easily moved on. Chapman senior Aaron Modrow won the Lansing regional in 16:35, while sophomore Taylor Briggs - gunning for her second straight state cross country title - won her race in 18:54. Briggs was kept honest by one of the better runners in class 4A, Fallon Russell of Bishop Miege, who finished second in 19:19.

At the class 3A Burlington regional, JP Rutledge of Riverton - who ran during the regular season for Baxter Springs - won in 16:01, beating Galena's Mathew Oglesby (16:15) and Girard's Cormick Logue (16:39). Those three also finished in the same order at the CNC League meet one week earlier, and don't be surprised to see them near the front again at this week's state meet.

Results from all of Kansas' regional meets are available on Kansas Milesplit's Results Page.

Also, look for our state meet previews beginning Sunday afternoon with class 1A and continuing through to class 6A on Wednesday.