This week, Kansas MileSplit reporter Pat Melgares will preview the state's cross country scene. Today, we look at class 1A boys and girls, and will follow with 2A through 6A throughout the week.
It's pretty clear who the favorites are for individual titles in Kansas class 1A cross country this season. Put your money on Collin Oswalt of Hutchinson-Central Christian and Lincoln's Jaycee Vath - both of whom swept all of the division's distance titles last year as sophomores.
Team titles? Eh, not so much...
Of more than 100 class 1A schools that offer girls cross country, only 13 - thirteen - field a full team of four runners in Kansas MileSplit's virtual rankings heading into the 2019 season.
The virtual meet takes the best times in 2018 from all runners expected to return in 2019 and predicts what a state meet would look like. The message in this year's pre-season rankings for girls is this: Go find your classmates and get them running.
The boys' rankings are a little bit better, in that about one-third of all class 1A schools have a full team of returners in 2019.
But in both cases, it's a given that class 1A offers the best chance for a darkhorse team to emerge during the season and rise to the podium at the state meet.
South Gray, fifth at state last year, looks like an early contender for the girls state title largely because it returns nearly all of its team from a year ago. That's important in this division because the other top teams took some heavy hits on the graduation stand.
The teams likely to challenge them for the state title are
Pretty Prairie, Macksville, Greeley County and Clifton-Clyde. Noticeably
missing is defending state champion Lincoln, which is one of those teams that graduated key performers and might not yet field a full team.
But Lincoln's Vath is by far the biggest star in this division. She won the cross country state crown a year ago - her first high school title - and followed that up with a pair of wins in the 1600 and 3200 in the spring. She will be a strong favorite to defend her state wins this year.
Lincoln is one of those teams who could put a few runners behind their front-runners and rise back to the top of the podium. Another is Washington County, who has two potential front-runners - sophomores Natalie Harlan and Natalie Roepke - but not a full team. If Washington County could find two more runners in the 23:00 minute range, they are instantly a state title contender.
Other individuals to look for in class 1A girls this year include Brooke Weibe of Berean Academy (sixth at state last year), Kirstin Hackney of Coldwater-South Central (third at state last year), and Olivia Kuckelman of Axtell.
Berean Academy returns four runners who placed in the top 20 at state last year, led by junior Drew Janzen. Senior Aj Miller leads St. John-Hudson's bid to repeat, and Caleb Eilert, the state runner-up a year ago, is likely to lead St. Johns-Beloit.
Like Vath, Oswalt won his first high school state title at last year's cross country championships, and sealed his status as the division's best distance runner with wins in the 1600 and 3200 on the track.
Oswalt's teammate, Adreono Ibarra, is a top five contender at state this year. Central Christian is a couple runners away from being a powerhouse in the class 1A boys team title.
CLASS 1A PRESEASON RANKINGS
As determined by Kansas MileSplit
Preseason prediction for individual state champs
Girls - Jaycee Vath, Lincoln
Boys - Collin Oswalt, Hutchinson-Central Christian