Mission Valley Invitational Wrap-Up

This season, Kansas MileSplit reporter Matt Goeckel will be covering meets in the Emporia area in-detail in our Meet Wrap-Up series.

Meet Wrap Up -Mission Valley Invite

            Located just southwest of Topeka in Wabaunsee County, Mission Valley hosts a meet that is exactly what you would expect from a rural Kansas school: twelve teams running 5000 meters through a cow pasture. While this may seem unsanitary to some, the rough (yet safe) terrain and rolling flint hills make this a true cross-country course. The course features a dry creek crossing and a trip across a small farm pond dam, and of course a few of those grueling switchbacks many runners have grown accustomed to. Mission Valley meet has not been a kind one for early-season PR's. The annual 90-degree heat with little to no shade or wind makes this an agonizing race for even the most skilled runners.

            The afternoon meet started with a mixed middle school race with about 80 runners. Leading the charge was a pair of talented 8th graders in Council Grove's Kodi Downes and Northern Heights' Cooper Hamlin. The two are quite familiar with each other, running in several races a year ago in both on the grass and on the track. Downes proved to be the stronger runner on Thursday, taking Hamlin out hard and opening a gap about 800 meters in. That gap would widen to 55 seconds by the end of the race, with Downes finishing in 11:53. Hamlin finished at 12:48, and it would be over a minute before Osage City's Josiah Smith came in for the bronze medal. On the girls side, Cornerstone's Katherine Keys held strong with the boys' chase pack through the first mile. Even before the pack started to spread out, it looked like Keys would have the girls race won, but Rock Creek's Kyra Nippert, who had hung a ways back early had a strong second mile. Her close wasn't quite enough, as Keys' kick ended any chance at a comeback victory. The Cornerstone leader won in 14:37 and Nippert was number two in 14:52.

            Next up was the varsity girls race. The headliner was the Rock Creek team, who had a strong finish to the 2018 season placing 4th at the 3A State Meet. The mustang strength was obvious early as they packed up and ran together well. The early leader was Evelyn Gentry, a junior from Cornerstone. She opened a sizable gap by the 1-mile mark, but was already looking pretty fatigued. Rossville's Julia Streit and Osage City's Emily Punches were giving chase, with a pack of Rock Creek mustangs in the neighborhood. Midway through, not much had changed at the front, but Rossville had made the team race interesting with all 7 runners in the top-15. With a just over a half mile to go, Gentry's lead had dwindled to about 30 meters, Streit was next with Rock Creek's Brooklyn Goehring on her shoulder and Abbi Clark close behind. The mustangs were using their frontrunners to bury Rossville's chance at a team title. Elisa Sanez made a move early in the third mile to move up, which helped the Rock Creek cause. While she looked to be out of gas nearly the whole race, Evelyn Gentry found enough to bury the opposition in the last half-mile, winning by 21 seconds in 22:50. Julia Streit and Brooklyn Goehring took the silver and bronze, respectively.

            The final race of the afternoon was an interesting one. Defending champion Walker Stromgren had plenty of company, with St Marys Academy's Mark Bonberger and Rock Creek's Gabe Roberts shooting to bring home gold like their older brothers had in the past. Everyone was interested in seeing how Mission Valley freshman AJ Rubio would adjust to the 5K distance, after being a standout two-miler a year ago. When the gun went off, a lead pack didn't emerge for over half a mile. The adrenaline of the first meet pulled several runners along early. At the dry creek crossing, the first mile mark, St. Mary's runner James Jones had the lead, with Walker Stromgren alongside. St. Mary's runners are known to start fast, but after a mile it was time to take Jones seriously. AJ Rubio was giving chase a couple steps back, with a sizable gap before a string of runners rounded out the top-ten. As the runners winded towards the two mile mark, Jones and Stromgren pulled away, still side-by-side. After a tough uphill section, Rubio found himself in a battle for 3rd with Bonberger and Roberts. The last mile has only a few switchbacks, and several long straightaways. The front two stayed stride-for-stride, while Roberts and Bonberger battled past Rubio. When the two leaders made the 180-degree turn into the schoolyard, Jones started to pour it on. Stromgren's reserves were spent, and with 500 meters to go the race started to slip away. Jones pulled away for a 15-second victory in 18:25. The battle for third was gritty, with neither Roberts nor Bonberger able to pull away during the final quarter mile. It came down to the final few steps, but it was Mark Bonberger who claimed bronze. Freshman AJ Rubio rounded out his first 5K race just a few seconds back in 5th.