This week, Kansas MileSplit reporter Pat Melgares is previewing the state's cross country scene. Today, we look at class 5A boys and girls (the 1A-4A previews have already been published), and will follow with the final season preview, class 6A, tomorrow.
For a little more than half of the past decade, cross country teams in Kansas' class 5A have entered each new season with one big question on their mind.
"Is this the year?"
As in, "Is this the year we can finally beat St. Thomas Aquinas."
No class 5A boys' team has been able to do it for the past five seasons. The Saints have run up five straight titles, pushing their total to nine overall.
And the St. Thomas Aquinas girls have won six of the last seven state titles, a total of 10 for the school.
The Saints came marching right in a year ago, sweeping the class 5A boys and girls titles for the sixth time in school history. The boys were not a surprise winner - they rolled to a 21 point victory over a solid Andover team for the title.
But the girls squad pulled off a surprising win after having been largely over-looked for much of the 2018 season. Led by senior Olivia Sovereign - the individual state champ in 2016 and 2017 before finishing third last year - St. Thomas Aquinas fought off a tight field to score an 11 point win over Bishop Carroll.
It goes without saying that even when you think you've got St. Thomas Aquinas down, it's best to keep your foot on the pedal.
In fact, that is excellent advice for the 2019 season as
some may get lured into the fact that graduation took a bulk of both boys' and girls' teams at St. Thomas.
The boys' squad returns just two of their top five from a year ago, and three of the top 7, including the loss of two-time class 5A state champion Ethan Marshall. The squad's top returner is sophomore Logan Seger, though junior Tommy Hazen - a star on the track last spring - is also among the returners.
Andover's boys appear ready to take the next step. They were the state runner-up last year, and return five varsity runners this season, including the division's top returner from the state meet, senior Ryan Kinnane (fourth place). Junior Samuel McDavitt, 16th at state last year, also is back.
Bishop Carroll, third last year, lost its top three, and St. James Academy graduated four varsity runners. Those losses have left an opening for such teams as Great Bend, Lansing and Maize to climb up the ranks this season.
In the boys' individual race, Kinnane tops the contenders, while Aquinas' Seger and Hazen could be right in the mix. Others to watch for include Erik Enriquez of Kapaun-Mt. Carmel, Austin Fullerton of Goddard-Eisenhower, Treyson True of Emporia, and Liam Neidig of Lansing.
St. James Academy's girls are the odds-on favorite for the team title in class 5A. They should have - could have? - won the state title a year ago, but a rash of late-season injuries robbed the squad of its depth. St. James won the 5A state title in 2017, the school's first-ever in the sport, with largely the same girls who will be on this year's team.
They return the division's top runner, senior Sarah Murrow, who swept the 1600, 3200 and cross country titles a year ago. Junior Mary O'Connor was fifth at state last year, and senior Hannah Robinson was sixth.
St. James Academy returns six of seven girls who ran at state last year, and that doesn't include senior standout Katie Moore, who was injured for last year's meet.
One team that is on the rise and will likely be very strong this year is Blue Valley Southwest, led by 2018 state runner-up Gigi Loffredo. The junior gave Murrow a great run for the state title a year ago, clocking 18:53 but coming up just seven seconds short of the win. Blue Valley Southwest has a couple of other state medalists returning in junior Brinn Wilson (19th) and senior McKenna Polus (20th).
Podium hopefuls in the class 5A girls chase include Goddard-Eisenhower and Bishop Carroll. Hope Jackson of Bishop Carroll was fourth at state as a freshman last year, and was the state runner-up in the 3200 on the track. Both Eisenhower and Bishop Carroll return four of their top five from a year ago.
CLASS 5A PRESEASON RANKINGS
As determined by Kansas MileSplit
Preseason prediction for individual state champs
Girls - Sarah Murrow, St. James Academy
Boys - Ryan Kinnane, Andover