If I were a bettin' man - I'm not, but if I were - I'd be putting my money on Collin Oswalt of Hutchinson-Central Christian and Jaycee Vath of Lincoln for the individual state titles in Kansas Class 1A cross country this season.
Shoot, look at the seasons those two had last year - each swept the class 1A state titles in cross country, 1600 meters and 3200 meters. Three-for-three. It doesn't get much better than that for distance runners. And neither has been beaten by a class 1A competitor in the 2019 season.
Easy money, right?
Well...maybe not so fast. Up until this past weekend's regional races, neither runner had the top time in the division this season. Caleb Eilert of Beloit-St. Johns has the best time in boys 1A, having run 16:28 this season. Eilert is a seasoned competitor, having finished second to Oswalt at state last year, and was a key member of the squad that won the boys 1A team title two years ago.
Eilert and Oswalt will have to contend with a 1A boys field that returns 8 of the top 10 finishers from last year's state meet.
Vath actually has the third best time in class 1A girls entering this week's meet. The top spot is an intriguing freshman - Madison Sutterfield from Meade - who has put together a very impressive debut season.
Sutterfield's season-best is 19:12, which she ran at Lakin a couple weekends ago. That time was more than 40 seconds faster than Vath's season-best, before Vath ran 19:14 to win the regional meet on Saturday. Sutterfield had junior high PRs of 5:26 in the 1600 and 11:34 for 3200 meters, but the meet where she probably proved her mettle was in September when she won the freshman race at the Hesston Invitational.
At Hesston, Sutterfield ran faster than senior twin sisters Hannah and Hayley Burks of Beloit, who are likely to finish in the top 3 in the class 3A state meet this week. She also beat Berean Academy's Brooke Wiebe, who has the second-best time in 1A this season; and Great Bend's Mayra Ramirez, who has won six meets this season. Hannah Grove of Sunrise Christian, who won the Heartland Christian Athletic Association championship two weeks ago, finished second to Sutterfield at Hesston.
In a sport where freshman girls are often state title contenders, Sutterfield just may be the next 'young lion' to hit the Kansas cross country scene.
I still lean toward Oswalt and Vath because I've seen their competitive fire up close. But the individual races in class 1A probably won't be snoozers.
I'm not sure I can say the same for the team titles in class 1A. Berean Academy appears to be much too powerful for anyone to keep up with.
The boys' squad has four of the top 11 returners from last season in juniors Drew Janzen, Trey Topham and Gavin Tucker; and sophomore Eli Nord. Remember that only four runners make up the team score in class 1A; no one has the strength to match Berean Academy in this division.
St. Johns-Hudson and Lacrosse are the favorites to take the other two podium spots. Senior Aj Miller (No. 4 in class 1A) and junior Uriel Calleros (No. 8) lead St. Johns-Hudson, while Blake Pierce (No. 7) keys Lacrosse's hopes for a state trophy.
Berean Academy's girls also seem to be a heavy favorite to win the title. The squad finished second last year to Lincoln, and return Wiebe and junior Sonya Zimmerman, who enters with the eighth best time in class 1A girls this season.
Pretty Prairie and Doniphan West are the leading
challengers. Sophomore Abigail White heads up Pretty Prairie's chances, while
sophomore Elle Williams and freshman Chloe Clevenger lead Doniphan West. Lincoln, the defending girls champs, had not fielded a full team this season until the regional meet, where they finished second. They'll need help from their third and fourth runners, but Lincoln has top-end strength with Vath and sophomore Shelbie Ford (eighth at state last year).
Class 1A Snapshot
Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Wamego Country Club
Boys Start: 11:45 a.m.
Girls Start: 10 a.m.
Defending team champions: Wallace County (boys); Lincoln (girls)
2019 Kansas MileSplit Predictions
Boys individual champion: Collin Oswalt, Hutchinson-Central Christian
Girls individual champion: Jaycee Vath, Lincoln
Boys team champion: Berean Academy
Girls team champion: Berean Academy