Thanks Seniors! MileSplit Salutes State's Grads

They had us cheering wildly, they made us laugh, and sometimes they even made us cry. Sometimes we cried tears of joy; other times, tears of pain.

Above all else, this crop of graduating seniors in Kansas gave us memorable cross country and track and field seasons. As the elder statesmen of the sport, they carried the banner well, leaving our state in good shape for the next year of memories.

We celebrate our country's independence this week, which signals Kansas MileSplit's annual salute to those seniors who represented their schools and their communities and their state so well.

As in past years, the risk of celebrating the graduating seniors is that we will leave some of the many deserving athletes out. This is not intended to mention every senior who competed in Kansas cross country or track and field the past school year - in fact, there's no way we could even mention all of the 78 seniors who won at least one individual state championship this past season.

Instead, this is simply my snapshot of some of the moments and individuals that symbolized another great year of cross country and track and field in the Sunflower State. I encourage you to leave comments below the story with a shout-out to your favorite senior performer, whether or not they are mentioned in my story.

To all Kansas seniors, I say 'Thanks for the Memories' and good luck as you take the next step in your life, whether that includes athletics or not.

 

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The speedsters

It's amazing how thrilling 10 or 11 seconds of competition can be. The margin for error is miniscule in the 100 meter dash, which is often the event that has spectators standing on their feet.


And for the past four years, I don't know anyone who has done it better than Newton's Kalli Anderson, who wrapped up her high school career with state titles in the 100 and 200 meters. It gives her three individual state wins to go with five runner-up finishes in her four year career.


She also won four state titles as a member of Newton's 4 X 100 meter relay.


Now, I would guess that if you asked Anderson, she'd call her team's three state titles from 2016-2018 as the highlight of her career. That's all well and good. But as fans of the sport, we probably enjoyed watching her individual talent more than anything else.


Deron Dudley of Wichita South also capped a solid career by winning the class 6A 100 and 200 meter sprint titles in May. He clocked 10.38 at regionals this season, which still stands at No. 29 on the national rankings list. Dudley won three state titles and one runner-up as a high school sprinter.


Wichita West's Xavier Sellers capped off a strong career, too. He and Dudley staged a frenetic back-and-forth in the sprints for most of the season. He had a season best of 10.50 for 100 meters.


But this year's show-stealer was likely Smoky Valley's Timmy Lambert, who dominated class 3A with season best times of 10.53 in the 100 and 21.55 in the 200. He is also a dominating hurdler. He fell in the finals of the 300 hurdles at state, and nearly recovered in time to win the state title in that event - in fact, he probably would have won if he had an extra 5 meters to catch Cheney's Riley Petz.


I don't think we've seen Lambert's top end yet. I think we are all blessed that he chose an in-state college (Kansas State), so we can witness more closely the next step in his athletic career.


And how about the career that Buhler's Jordan Hawkins put together? He dominated the class 4A sprints this season, winning the 100 and 200 at state to move his haul to four high school state titles. It was great to see Hawkins healthy this year after he struggled to stay on the track in 2018.


Moundridge's Jamya O'Quinn won back-to-back state titles in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, taking those two events in class 2A in 2018 and then in class 1A this season.


Shawnee Mission East's Destiny Ray was fire on the track. She came up short of winning a state title in her high school career, but she was routinely running well against the strongest competition. She finished with seven sprint medals at state, of a possible eight, during her high school career.

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Middle distance and distance

While Kansas has seen an influx of young talent in the middle distance and distance events, the fastest boys and girls in the state were seniors.


Washburn Rural's Jaybe Shufelberger and Manhattan's Clara Mayfield separated themselves from the rest in the distance events. Shufelberger was by far the state's best cross country runner, though she was second at state on a hot, humid day. Shufelberger did qualify for Nike Nationals, and then won the 800 and 3200 meter state titles on the track.


Mayfield was third at state cross country, but then really broke through on the track with state-best times in the 1600 (4:52.83) and 3200 (10:36.00). She won her first state title with a dominating run in the 1600 in May.


The boys' distance events also went to mostly seniors, and the best one of all of them was Yates Center's Hadley Splechter, who wrapped up his high school career with 10 individual state titles. For the second year in a row, he swept class 2A state titles in cross country, 800 meters, 1600 meters and 3200 meters.


I think what I'll remember most about Splechter, however, is how he led Yates Center to its first-ever state cross country title in 2017. Most years, Yates Center hasn't been able to field a full team, but Splechter and crew put it together to make history for their school and community.


St. Thomas Aquinas senior Ethan Marshall became the first boy ever from that school to win two state cross country titles when he successfully defended his state title last October. He then won the state 1600 title with a career-best 4:20.15 - which also was the fastest 1600 run in Kansas this season.


Shawnee Mission North's Asher Molina won the class 6A state cross country title, while Andover's Asher Moen was the class 5A state champ in the 3200 meters. Moen's time of 9:24.74 was the fastest time run at the state meet this year in that event. Cade Heikes of Olathe North won the class 6A 1600 meter run.


One of the most intriguing divisions in Kansas distance running this season was class 3A boys, which featured at least four senior runners who were pretty evenly matched: Galena's Matthew Oglesby, Riverton's Jp Rutledge, Kingman's Owen Pearce and Scott Community's Jack Thomas.


Oglesby ran a smart race to out-duel the field at the fall cross country championships, while Rutledge won the 3200 and Pearce took the 1600 at the state track and field championships. Thomas, who was coming back from a devastating injury, had previously won a state cross country title in 2017, and the 3200 meter title in 2016.


Other distance stars among Kansas seniors this season were Helen Giefer of Trego County, who won class 2A titles in cross country and the 3200 meter run; and class 4A standout Aaron Modrow of Chapman, who finally broke through with a state title in the 3200 meter at this year's state track meet.

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Field events

Frankly, Kansas athletes are probably better on a national level in the field events than they are on the track. Maybe some will argue that point, but the statistics don't lie.


Centralia's Madison Lueger dominated the girls' javelin in Kansas this season, throwing a season-best 157-2 that ranks as the seventh best throw in the United States this year.


Olathe Northwest's Maddie Righter cleared 5-10 in the high jump this season, good for No. 1 in Kansas and No. 15 in the country. She won the 6A state title in that event, and was the state runner-up in the long jump (17-10.25) and 100 hurdles (15.21). That's a pretty impressive day's work.


Righter's teammate, Jaleesa McWashington won state titles in the long jump (18-3) and 300 hurdles (45.79), and was third in the triple jump. Her season-best of 19-8 in the long jump puts her at No. 43 in the United States.


Jacy Dalinghaus of Nemaha Central - the class 3A state champion in the shot put, discus and javelin - is ranked No. 22 in the javelin in the country. Dalinghaus ends her high school career with five state titles, and never finished outside of the top five at state in any of her three events.


Abbee Rhodes of Augusta was also a dominating force in her high school career. She won back-to-back state titles in the class 4A shot put, and finished with six state medals.


Andale's field events were the envy of every team in Kansas, and three of the best for that squad were seniors Mason Fairchild, Jacy Anderson and Jaden Eck.


Fairchild closed out his senior season with a second-place finish in the shot put and third place in the javelin, his best finishes at state during his career.


Anderson won the class 4A girls discus, to go with a pair of runner-up finishes in that event the past two years. And Eck was the state champ in the pole vault.


The biggest crowd-pleaser? Well, I'd cast a vote for Scott Community's Marshall Faurot, whose attempt at 17-0.25 in the pole vault at this year's state meet was one of those moments when everybody - I mean everybody - in the stadium stopped to watch. Faurot was Mr. Clutch, attacking the runway, clearing the bar on the way up...and then just barely nipping it on the way down.


Still, it was great fun, and one of the Top Five moments at this year's state meet. Faurot won state titles in the pole vault, high jump and 110 hurdles at this year's championships.


Bishop Carroll's Ethan Hull also put in a clutch performance, winning the class 5A boys pole vault with a season best 16-0. Hull finished second at regionals behind junior standout Brian Simon, but at state, Hull had a slightly better day to nab the state title.


In the girls' pole vault, a shout-out to Lawrence senior Josie Hickerson, who won the 6A state title with a career-best 12-3. She was the runner-up in the event one year earlier. She also ends her career as a member of the two-time class 6A state champion team.


Trey Patterson of Cheney had a breakthrough year in the javelin, throwing a career-best of 206-11 that ranks No. 10 in the United States this season. He put a good scare into Manhattan's Sam Hankins - who has not been beaten in the event by a Kansas competitor in nearly three years -- at the Kansas Relays; Patterson led early in the competition before Hankins won with his second-to-last throw. Patterson went on to win the class 3A state title in May.


Matthew Everett of Winfield threw a season-best 192-6 to win the discus at the regional meet, putting him at No. 15 in the United States. Everett won his first state title in the event (he finished as runner-up each of the past two years) in May.


Wesley Shaw of Hillsboro was another of Kansas' dominating field event athletes. He topped all Kansas shot put throwers this season with a season best of 64-1, good for No. 21 in the United States this year. He won discus and shot put state titles this season (it was his second straight shot put win at state), capping a stellar high school career in which he won seven state medals.


Here's a couple guys who can really fly: Stanton County's Creed Puyear, and Shawnee Mission Northwest's Chanler Taylor.


Puyear had the state's second best long jump of the season (23-7.5) and the seventh-best triple jump (45-0.5). He won class 2A state titles in both of those events after having his 2018 season cut short by injury.


Taylor was the state's best in the triple jump, soaring 47-2.25 this season. He capped his senior season with the class 6A state title, after finishing second place a year earlier.


Hunter Jones of Nickerson was one of the most versatile seniors in Kansas this season. He threw the javelin 187-0, jumped 6-10 in the high jump, and dropped a sub-40 in the 300 hurdles. He's also competed in the 110 hurdles, long jump, triple jump and shot put. Jones was the state champ in the high jump, runner-up in the javelin, and fifth in the 300 hurdles at state this year.


Caleb Hentzen of Labette County had the second-best high jump in Kansas this season, clearing 6-10.5, though he was third at state at 6-8. His season-best ranks No. 20 in the United States for the 2019 season.

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Hurdles

I love the courage of Newton's Maggie Remsberg, who shook off the disappointment of falling at the regional meet to shine at the state meet...again.

Remsberg's fall took her out of the 100 hurdles at state, but she rebounded to win the state title in the 300 hurdles this season. Remsberg has had a wildly successful career, having won state titles in the 100 hurdles (2018) and 300 hurdles (2019) and 11 state medals overall. She has finished as a state runner-up five times, and never out of the top 5 in the long jump, 100 hurdles or 300 hurdles.

Kindel Nordhus of Bishop Carroll won 10 state medals in her career, finishing with a first (400 meters), two seconds (100 hurdles and 300 hurdles) and third (200 meters) during her senior campaign. She also won the 300 hurdle title as a junior; she never finished lower than third in that event in four high school state meets.

Layne Needham of Cheney swept the 100 hurdle and 300 hurdle titles in class 3A for the second consecutive year. Needham has nine state medals in her career, which includes finishing second at this year's Kansas Relays.

Rylee Gleason of Kinsley won four consecutive class 1A state titles in the 300 hurdles, capping her third undefeated season in that event this year. In four years, Gleason was beaten just twice in the 300 hurdles. She's also placed second (twice) and third (once) in the 100 hurdles at state.

One of the athletes I've enjoyed watching over the years is Junction City's Kiena Newman, whose grit was one of the lasting images of her team's run to the class 6A state title in 2017. She won state titles in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles that year as the Bluejays won by two points. She is nearly unbeatable in the 100 hurdles, having won 23 of 25 finals races the last three years.

In addition to winning the 300 hurdles in 2017, she was the runner-up in that event in 2018 and 2019.

Some of the clutch performers from this year's state meet included Eric Kop of Wellington, who won the class 4A 110 hurdles (14.54) and was second in the 300 hurdles (39.53); Jack Mull of Winfield, who was second in the class 4A 110 hurdles (14.67); and Brett Winsor of Pratt, whose career-best of 39.07 was good enough for the class 4A state title in the 300 hurdles.

 

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More...
A vote for breakout performance of the year? How about Dodge City senior Ezinne Okoro, who jumped nearly a foot and one-half further than she ever has before to win the class 6A girls triple jump. Her mark of 39-9.75 was the third best in Kansas this year, and sits at No. 66 in the United States.


Another western Kansas star who may have been overlooked this season was Garden City's Taylor Savolt. She finished her career with three more state medals - upping her total to 12. She was the 2018 state champion and 2017 runner-up in the 300 hurdles (fourth this year), and won medals in the long jump, triple jump and both hurdling events during her four-year career.

 

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A story of courage

Jack Thomas of Scott Community won the 2017 class 3A state cross country championship, and was well on his way to becoming one of the dominant runners in Kansas. But the following spring, he was virtually unable to run after suffering a torn labrum in his right hip.


A torn labrum is the runner's equivalent to a blown ACL in the knee, or a torn achilles tendon. It's a long, long, long road to recovery.


I detailed his setback in a story that I wrote for Kansas MileSplit on April 30.


Thomas was among the favorites to win the 1600 and 3200 meter runs at this year's state track and field meet, and it appeared as though he would have the storybook ending as he held about a 50 meter lead in the 3200 meter run with one lap to go.


Then...disaster.


Thomas' cadence suddenly slowed. His shoulders slumped. With 200 meters to go, the field began catching him quickly. By the time Thomas slumbered to the top of the final curve, it was clear something bad was happening.


Thomas was suffering from dehydration badly, so much so that he could barely lift either leg. He nearly fell to the track with 100 meters to go as a wave of runners quickly passed him. He struggled to the finish - miraculously - well back in 12th place.


Bad things happen to good people sometimes. Getting sick in a race isn't the worst thing that can happen, but in the moment, it had to be physically and emotionally painful for Thomas.


But this story does have a happy ending. Thomas shook off the effects of his illness to finish as the state runner-up in the 1600 meter run. He again had a chance at the win, but came up just a little short.


Not all champions win the race. I tip my hat to Jack Thomas, and wish him well as he goes on to run in college next fall.

 


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