Kingman's girls at the 3A Bishop Carroll Regional at Lake Afton. Photo by Briana Nash.
As many already know cross country is as much of a team sport as it is individual. This shines through best during Regional week. Teams devise every strategy they can come up with to ensure a trip to state, and with 16 teams (even more sometimes in 1A) all fighting for 3 or 4 spots, the competition gets fierce top to bottom. Let's get down to business and break down this week's meets.
The field of 12 for the boys is:
St John-Hudson, Berean Academy, Central Christian, Caldwell, Wallace County, Santana, Quinter, Macksville, Beloit-St John, Axtell, Frankfort, and Centralia
Remember that 1A scores 4 runners, which can often make a big impact. This field doesn't bring many surprises, though. Burden Central missing the cut by 3 points to Caldwell was the closest 4th-5th finish, but Caldwell beat Burden Central earlier in the season. Collin Oswalt (16:17), Trevor Fischer (17:41), and Caleb Eilert (17:05) were crowned regional champs. St John-Hudson's AJ Miller(17:30) and Wakefield's Dalton Murray(17:37) rounded out the top-5 for the week. St John-Hudson is the favorite going into State, averaging 18:19 at Wichita over the weekend. The other two regional champions, Wallace County and Beloit-St John, have a shot as well, as both averaged 18:32 this past weekend. Axtell and Berean are also podium contenders, but will need a huge day to topple one of those three.
The girls' field is:
Berean Academy, South Central, Pretty Prairie, Caldwell, South Gray, Macksville, Kiowa County, Greely County, Lincoln, Tescott, Clifton-Clyde, and Centralia
This year is a story of two teams: Berean and Lincoln. The two are head-and-shoulders above the rest, and are about as close as you can get all season long. Lincoln's Jaycee Vath and Berean's Erin Topham will be in the battle for the individual title, but South Central's Kirstin Hackney beat Topham over the weekend, so she'll have a shot as well. Each of the other 3 scoring runners for each team will likely be battling side-by-side. If you made me choose, I'd have to go with Lincoln based on regional performance. They averaged 20:53 and posted a perfect score of 10. The third podium spot is up for grabs, and it could be taken by South Central or South Gray. South Central looked good this past week, but South Gray has posted solid times throughout the season.
The boys field:
Central Heights, St Mary's Colgan, Humboldt, Stanton County, Lakin, Skyline, Ellsworth, Goessel, Hutch-Trinity, Northern Heights, Wabaunsee, and Jackson Heights
Central Heights has been a heavy favorite all season long, and their 77-point victory at regionals shows they aren't backing down. Alex Cannady and Tyler Stevenson have been solid at the front for the Vikings, and 5th runner Mason McCurry has a season-best of 18:05. Stanton County probably has the best shot at climbing the mountain, as they actually averaged 3 seconds faster last weekend, but will need huge performances from the 4th and 5th runners, which are both freshmen. Northern Heights and Ellsworth were the other regional champions. The individual race is very similar to last year. Meade's Ethan Thompson(16:20), Yates Center's Hadley Splechter(16:22), and Bishop Seabury's Henry Nelson(17:12) all cruised to victories this week. Sacred Heart senior Luis Mendez had to work a little harder for his regional title, but posted a solid 17:10. Splechter took home the title last year, and will be the one to beat again this year.
The 2A Girls field is:
St Mary's Colgan, Jayhawk-Linn, Southeast, Ellinwood, Trego Community, Stanton County, Bennington, Sacred Heart, Hutch-Trinity, Rossville, KC Christian, and Jeff County North
Bennington has shown they can win, taking the last 2 titles in 2A, but they'll get a good fight from Ellinwood this week. Pat Melgares does a great job breaking down the two teams over in his 2A Preview, so I won't go into too much detail. Rossville and St Mary's Colgan were also regional champions this week. Trego Community's Helen Giefer has looked strong all season, including her 19:08 performance at Meade this past weekend. She'll be the big favorite for the individual title.
The boys field is:
Osage City, Burlington, Girard, Southeast of Saline, Norton, Smoky Valley, Silver Lake, Hiawatha, Sabetha, Halstead, Hugoton, and Hesston
This is an interesting field. Several teams have made their mark throughout the season, but nobody is a clear-cut leader. Osage City, Southeast of Saline, Silver Lake, and Halstead were the regional champions. Hiawatha has the best times when you consider the whole season, but I'm not bought in on them after they got 6th last year in the same scenario. Halstead is the defending champions, and they won the Lake Afton regional. That Wichita/Southwest Kansas regional has been the source of every 3A boys champion since the move to Rim Rock in 2011. Southeast of Saline has a good shot too, having the best average time of regional week at 17:35. Norton was second in that regional, averaging 17:59, a second-best for the week. Southeast of Saline is my pick to take the big trophy home, as they beat Halstead a few weeks ago and have posted the most consistent times all season. The individual race will likely be led by JP Rutledge of Riverton, who won the Burlington regional in 16:01. Galena's Matthew Oglesby(16:15) and Girard's Cormick Logue(16:39) showed well too. Don't discount the 3A veterans though, Kingman's Owen Pearce and Teagan Flanagan have been top-dogs for a while, and Riley County's Brett Kulp has been a factor at state in recent years as well.
The 3A Girls field is:
Scott City, Clay Center, Thomas More Prep, Hugoton, Cimarron, Douglass, West Franklin, Osage City, Fredonia, Rock Creek, Hiawatha, and Sabetha
I really like this 3A Girls field, there are so many contenders. Rock Creek and TMP have really come on as of late, and schools like Hiawatha, West Franklin, Scott City, and Clay Center have been solid all year. Norton had a great team this year, but missed the cut in a loaded Southeast of Saline regional by 1 point. Scott City has had a great season, and continued it with the best average of the regional week at 21:22, but Clay Center wasn't far behind at 21:29. Rock Creek, West Franklin, Osage City, and TMP all averaged between 21:50 and 21:56 to round it out. It's possible to see Sabetha make a move too, as senior Megan Meyer puts her injury further behind her, and sophomore Hattie Lukert is looking solid after a 21:03 victory at her home course for regionals. West Franklin had a scare from Osage City, only winning by 1 point at regionals, but I think the Falcons will benefit from the competition at state. Molly Rossman and Bailey Leach haven't had personal bests yet this season, and have the potential to pick up a lot of points. Individually, the race will likely be a repeat of the Southeast of Saline regional. Hannah and Hayley Burkes from Beloit, Caroline Giles of Minneapolis, and Norton's Lexi Kats (1-4 last year at state), along with Colby's Lara Murdock, were all in the top 5 of the race and had the top 5 times of the weekend. Elizabeth Kettler has championship experience and will be in the mix, but it will be a tough hill to climb to beat them.