A year ago, the Mill Valley girls' cross country team's win at the class 6A state championships was a nice story that is now etched into that school's history books as its first-ever title in the sport.
But for those who think the story ends there, we have some news: They're Ba-a-a-a-ck!!!
Yep, it's possibly not the last time we'll see Mill Valley climb the awards stand in class 6A as the Jaguars return 6 of the 7 runners from last year's state title team. That includes sophomore Katie Schwartzkopf, who wrote a bit of history herself when she became the school's first-ever individual state champion last year.
Schwartzkopf ran a career-best time of 18:19.5 and showed tremendous patience as the pre-race favorites shriveled in the heat last year. She never led until just over a half mile remained, and then she roared through the Jim Ryun Skyline en route to a nearly 30-second win.
Olathe North, fourth place in class 6A girls last year, returns six of its top seven from a year ago and probably has the best shot of hanging with Mill Valley. Senior Sarah Whitaker, who has a career best time of 18:26 for 5K, heads up the squad.
Other teams that enter the season as strong podium contenders include Blue Valley West (led by senior Bella Call and sophomore Katherine Soule), Blue Valley North (led by senior Sophie Jones) and Blue Valley Northwest (led by junior Riley Beach).
The race for the individual title is particularly intriguing in class 6A girls. Schwartzkopf is the defending champ, but Blue Valley Northwest's Beach won the title in 2017 - also as a freshman.
Beach was in second place with one-half mile to go last year, but seemed to suffer from dehydration and struggled to a 13th place finish.
Those two will also have to contend with Olathe North's Whitaker, Blue Valley's Tori Wingrove, and Blue Valley West's Call for the individual crown.
While Mill Valley's reign in class 6A seems to be in its infancy, there is some thought that the class 6A boys division is seeing the end of another dominant run. Defending champion Olathe North graduated its top five runners, a group that led their school to three state titles in the last four years.
It has left the door wide open for a host of contenders this year, perhaps none more solid right now than Lawrence Free State.
The Firebirds were the runner-up last year, and return six runners, including last year's fourth-place finisher Ben Shryock, now a sophomore. Senior Charlie Johnson was 19th at state, and sixth in the 3200 meters on the track last spring. Junior Ethan Sharp was 21st at the state cross county meet a year ago.
It also doesn't hurt that Lawrence Free State can regularly train on the hills of Rim Rock Farm.
Mill Valley seems to be a solid contender for a state title, with seniors Jack Terry (15th at state last year) and Darius Hightower (25th) leading the way. Olathe South, Washburn Rural and Olathe East have the inside track for a spot on the podium, as well.
Fourteen of the top 20 finishers in last year's class 6A boys' race were seniors, leaving a lot of room for newbies to grab state medals this year. But the top end of this year's field of contenders is rock solid.
Manhattan junior Daniel Harkin, last year's state runner-up in cross country and the state champion at 3200 meters, leads a field of contenders that includes Wichita North senior Michael Iyali (third at state last year) and Lawrence Free State's Shryock (fourth at state). There seems to be a drop-off from there, though it's much too early to know who has put in the work to improve and who are the newcomers this season.
CLASS 6A PRESEASON RANKINGS
As determined by Kansas MileSplit
Preseason prediction for individual state champs
Girls - Riley Beach, Blue Valley Northwest
Boys - Daniel Harkin, Manhattan