Meet Recap - Flint Hills/Lyon County League at Melvern Lake
League week is a special time in Kansas cross country. For some, it's an easy week to pummel their neighboring teams and gear up for regionals. Others are in a dogfight for a year of bragging rights. For many runners, it's their last race of the season. Some may be making a last-ditch effort to make the varsity seven and live to race another week. In the Flint Hills, they've got it all. For a small school league, these teams put together a deep and competitive field, especially in the last few years. Central Heights' recent 2A title speaks volumes, but so does the fact that 5 other schools have sent a team to state in the last few years. This year, the 8 teams of the Flint Hills joined with some 1A Lyon County League schools for a brawl at Melvern Lake. What was previously a notoriously slow course was changed for the occasion but kept true to its unique aspects that included running along the shoreline, crossing a wooden suspension bridge, and going up a monstrous hill... twice.
The JV race was the nightcap on Thursday, but we'll start our wrap-up there. Osage City has a gigantic team, and they were out in full force. Tanner Theel won the JV race in 19:56, which was faster then the 7th man on varsity, so he may have bought himself an extra two weeks of practice. Senior Lita Bloomquist was the JV girls champ at 28:24.
In the middle school division, the girls race had a lead pack early on, but Central Heights had three filter out ahead of the rest. Kaylee Holstine led the way in 13:35, edging Melaney Chrisjohn by a second. Emma Cubit was third at 13:50. Naturally, the lady Vikings took the team title. It's nice to see some middle school team scores taking hold across the state. For the boys, you've all heard it before. Kodi Downes. Cooper Hamlin. Hamlin had a few on his heels in Connor Burkdoll (Central Hts) and Hunter Bailey (West Franklin), but in the end was able to show he's still one of the toughest 8th graders in Kansas. The team score was close, but Central Heights had the better 4 and 5 man to take the title over Council Grove. LCL champs were Olpe's Lilly Skalsky in 15:14 and Lebo's Caleb Durst in 12:51.
The girls' race was an interesting one. Olpe standout Macy Smith led most of the first half of the race, with West Franklin's Emma Bailey on her shoulder. West Franklin senior Bailey Leach sat comfortably a few strides back. The team race was never in question. Central Heights had a few runners near the front in Madison Bridges and Abby Brown, but was missing runners and didn't make a full team. That left nobody to match West Franklin's power. As the race continued into the third mile, Emma Bailey and Macy Smith started to pull away, and Leach was left in no-man's land. Bridges tried to close the gap on 3rd before and during the hill in the last mile, but the damage had already been done. Emma Bailey finished a strong last mile to win in 20:57, Smith was the LCL champion at 21:11. Leach came through in 21:42. Madison Bridges (22:04) and Burlingame's Emily Punches (22:12) rounded out the top-5.
The varsity boys race was one to remember. The team race was the closest it's ever been in the league's 12-year history. Central Heights came in with a 12-meet win streak, their last defeat was a 2-point runner-up finish at 3A state two years ago. The success of this senior-laden Viking squad has not gone unnoticed, and they were the heavy favorite to win their second straight FHL title. However, none of that matters when the gun goes off. Nolan Redeker from Olpe took the lead early after the first hill but, being from the Lyon County League, he wouldn't factor into Flint Hills League scoring. Giving chase was Central Heights senior Tyler Stevenson. As they looped around toward the bridge, early in the second mile, Osage City senior Walker Stromgren had moved up with the leaders, as had Mission Valley freshman AJ Rubio. Coming back across the bridge, Stevenson had a just few steps on Stromgren and Rubio. Coming up huge for the Indians, though, was Skylar Karns. He had found his way into the front pack, and it looked like the impossible may happen. By my count, the team race was tied at 38 with just under a mile to go. Central Heights had three near the front that couldn't pick up many points, so it was up to their 4th and 5th runners to avoid the upset. Boy did they come up big. David Craft moved into 9th and Luke Cotter finished well ahead of the 5th Osage runner at 14th. At the front, Redeker finished strong and sealed his wire-to-wire LCL title in 17:48. Osage's Stromgren made a push on the homestretch, but Stevenson's footspeed proved enough to hold on, edging a 1-second victory in 17:53. The freshman Rubio finished his best race of the season in 18:03 overtaking Osage City senior Skylar Karns, who finished his race of a lifetime in 18:06 to round out the top-5. When the dust settled, Central Heights had emerged victorious 34-40, but the wake-up call could be felt from both sides. For the Vikings, they realized they're not invincible, and there is still work to be done before they defend their 2A title at Wamego. For Osage City, they found that they can compete with the big dogs for the 3A podium in two weeks.