League Champs Crowned Across Kansas

Kansas' cross country runners blew the lid off the 2019 postseason this week as more than three dozen league titles went up for grabs from Thursday through Saturday.

Manhattan's Daniel Harkin and Bishop Carroll's Hope Jackson made, perhaps, the most noise. They won their respective league titles with the week's fastest times - Harkin in the Centennial League (15:14.2) and Jackson in the Wichita City League (18:17.3).

Harkin led a boys' field in the Centennial League that put up six of the state's top 20 boys' times this week, the most of any league meet. And in case you think that course was a bit short...it wasn't. It was, however, very fast as the league went to a new layout at the famed Stateland Course in Topeka. The new course eliminated one of the more demanding hills, and had fewer turns in favor of longer straightaways.

It translated into a boys' race that produced the top four times in Kansas this week - Emporia's Treyson True was the runner-up in 15:44.4, while Washburn Rural's Rylan Brown was third at 15:47.8 and Hayden's Tanner Newkirk was fourth in 15:52.0.

For Harkin, the winning time was just off his season-best of 15:11, which he ran to win the Missouri Southern Stampede in mid-September.

Brown's Washburn Rural team successfully defended its league title over Manhattan, which had won seven straight before last year. Senior Caleb Wright was fifth in 15:59.1 as Washburn put five runners in the top 11.

Jackson led wire-to-wire as she crushed the field at the Wichita City meet. Her winning time was more than a minute better than runner-up Addie Curtis, a freshman from Kapaun Mt. Carmel who clocked 19:24.4. Curtis was about a minute better than the third place finisher.

Jackson's win led Bishop Carroll to 32 points and an easy victory over Wichita East, which had 60.

Tough team battles. The Eastern Kansas League and the Sunflower League are routinely two of the toughest leagues in Kansas. This year's league meets did absolutely nothing to dispel that thought.

St. Thomas Aquinas' boys, the five-time defending class 5A state champions, fought off a tough Mill Valley squad to win the EKL team title with 44 points. Aquinas was led by league runner-up Aiden Higgerson, who clocked 16:02.7. Logan Seger was fourth (16:14.7) and Ashton Higgerson was seventh (16:35.9) as the Saints posted a 54-second pack time.

Mill Valley was led by EKL champ Darius Hightower, who won in 15:52.5, but his mates were nearly a minute behind. Karch Crawford placed tenth in 16:45.0, Nathan Greenfield was 11th at 16:45.1 and Carsyn Turpin 13th in 16:47.4. Mill Valley's team score was 54 points.

Mill Valley dominated a solid field for the girls' EKL title. Senior Morgan Koca (18:40.0) and sophomore Katie Schwartzkopf (18:48.6) keyed the team win with a 2-3 finish. The Jaguars scored 51 for a 31-point win over Blue Valley West (82), which was led by Bella Call (fourth, 18:57.2) and Katharine Soule (fifth, 19:04.1).

Tori Wingrove of Blue Valley won the EKL girls title in a time of 18:32.9.

Olathe North's Sarah Whitaker led a 1-3-4 finish by her team in the girls' Sunflower League race, but it wasn't enough as Olathe West rallied to win the team title by four points. Olathe West, which got a second place finish by freshman Aubree Blackman (19:06.9), put a better pack together to post a score of 54.

Olathe North's front-end strength included Kaylee Tobaben (third, 19:21.0) and Lexi Dockstader (fourth, 19:39.7).

Lawrence Free State's boys kicked off the postseason in fine fashion, taking the Sunflower League title with 65 points. Olathe South had a 26 second pack, which keyed its second place finish (80 points).

Charles Johnson of Lawrence Free State was the individual champ in the Sunflower League, finishing in 16:12.6. Logan Read of Olathe Northwest gave Johnson a good fight, but settled for second in 16:15.9, while Free State's Ben Shryock was third at 16:30.2.

Rounding into form? Taylor Briggs of Chapman and Tanner Lindahl of Buhler, the class 4A state champions last year, seem to be ready for another title run. Briggs won the North Central Kansas League title in a business-like 19:29.33, and Lindahl - coming back from a spring injury - looked pretty solid in winning the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League (Division 3) title in 16:21.7.

Ryan Kinnane of Andover, who just may be the best runner in class 5A this season, dominated the AVCTL Division 2 race in 15:52.54, and Michael Iyali of Wichita North - third in class 6A a year ago - got a 10-second win in the Wichita City League, clocking 16:00.9.

Cormick Logue of Girard - fifth in class 4A last year - easily won the CNC League in a career best time of 16:09.0.

One runner who we're glad to see back on the course: 2018 class 5A state champion Sarah Murrow of St. James Academy. She's missed all of the current season so far nursing injury, but she was back for the EKL race on Thursday. Murrow finished sixth in 19:09 - about a minute off her career best - but assuming she gets through regionals this week, she could be ready just in time to make a strong push for a repeat state title.

Around the State. Well, there are a bunch of runners across Kansas carrying league bragging rights this week, but here are some of the one's that caught my eye.

* Ethan Fisher of Garden City won the Western Athletics Conference title in a time of 16:34.74, holding off a game fight from Giovanni Valverde of Dodge City, who was the runner-up in 16:40.8. Garden City won the league crown with 41 points, just holding off Great Bend (43) and Dodge City (44). Great Bend freshman Kaiden Esfeld was third individually with a time of 16:46.

* Owen Roellchen and Grace Hanson of Piper swept the Frontier League titles in times of 16:36.9 and 18:50.56. Both seem to be in line for top 3 finishes at state this year.

* Jenna Keeley, a sophomore from Manhattan, got her first career win as she out-hustled a good field in the Centennial League. Keeley clocked 18:51.6, to lead a 1-2-3 finish for her squad. Teammates Ella Rosenkranz (19:08) and Amelia Knopp (19:11) pushed Manhattan to their 10th consecutive Centennial League girls championship.

* Kyler Kaniper and Mariah Farmer of Silver Lake posted career best times in winning the Mid-East League. Kaniper finished in 16:12.6 while Farmer came in at 19:29.9.

* Carson Sturdy of DeSoto clocked 16:04.3, and Terry Robinson of Lansing finished at 16:19.1 to top the field at the United Kansas Conference. Both times are career bests for the duo. Kylie Phillips of Shawnee Heights won the girls' title in a time of 20:09.5.

* A couple runners I've enjoyed watching over the last couple years: Alexa Rios of Maize South and Mayra Ramirez of Great Bend. Rios took the AVCTL Division 2 title this week in 19:29.33, and Ramirez clocked 15:19.3 for 4000 meters to win the Western Athletics Conference. It was the sixth win of the season for Ramirez, a senior.

* Take note of Wichita East's boys at this year's state meet. They're putting together a solid varsity squad, and on Saturday, they won the Wichita City League over Bishop Carroll. They were led at the league meet by seniors Dylan Stoltzfus (fourth, 16:38.7) and Jack Walsh (fifth, 16:44.7). Bishop Carroll sophomore Carson McEachern was third (16:20.9) to lead his squad.

In the Mid-Continent League, Wyndom Giefer and Sybil Giefer of Trego Community took the individual titles home with them. Wyndom was clocked in 17:48, beating Connor Hall of Norton Community (17:55.6), while Sybil finished in 20:27.4 to beat 2018 class 3A state champion Lexi Kats of Norton Community (21:08).