Kansas MileSplit reporter Pat Melgares is previewing this week's state cross country championships. Today, we look at class 4A, and will continue with 5A and 6A through Thursday.
It must get a little boring being Taylor Briggs.
Oh, I'm certain the Chapman junior has a flock of friends, a caring family, and supportive coaches and teammates.
But on the cross country course, she's the one out there in front. Alone...usually.
The two-time defending 4A state cross country champion has won six races this season by an average margin of 1:44. She did have some company at the Rim Rock Farm Classic, where she finished fifth in a season-best time of 18:50.0.
Since she hit the Kansas cross country and track and field scene two years ago, Briggs has been beautiful to watch. She is 6-for-6 in state competition in her first two years, having swept the class 4A cross country, 1600 and 3200 meter titles.
She enters this week's state meet at the Wamego Cross Country Club as the favorite to win her third consecutive title, which would make her just the tenth Kansas girl to have won three. Five Kansas girls have won four state titles, most recently in 2016 by Girard's Cailie Logue in class 4A.
Briggs started her own run in class 4A on the heels of Logue's fourth state title. Even so, it's too early to start the hype machine for No. 4, and in fact this year's race is certainly no lock.
That's because another fantastic freshman is mounting her own charge. Piper's Grace Hanson has emerged as a legitimate contender for the class 4A individual title, having won the Frontier League championship in a season-best 18:50.56 two weeks ago, and the regional title last week in 19:15.
There will probably also be a wave of Maroon jerseys near the front. Buhler's girls finished third at state a year ago, but they seem to be the odds-on favorite, with nearly all of last year's team returning. They also beat defending champion Baldwin handily at the Wamego Invitational earlier this season, and won the regional meet by more than 30 points.
The Crusaders have a wicked Pack Attack that includes seniors Emma Willison and Daycee DeWindt; juniors Leah Bentley and Amaleigh Mattison; and freshman Lindsay Warner. Buhler's pack time has routinely been between 30-40 seconds this season.
Eudora, led by the Hiebert sisters, beat Baldwin at last week's regionals and may have the best shot at knocking off Buhler. Baldwin returns six of seven from last year's championship team and could find itself back on the podium.
Girard, led by junior Cormick Logue, is back in class 4A this season after a year in 3A. Logue clocked 16:05 to win the regional title by 55 seconds, leading his team to a dominating 34-point victory over runner-up Iola. Girard's average time for its first five runners at regionals was a solid 17:18.
That poses a significant challenge to defending champ Buhler, led by sophomore Tanner Lindahl, who won the individual state title last year as a freshman.
Lindahl was sidelined by injury during the spring track and field season, but he's gradually worked his way back to the top of the state's 4A cross country rankings. He has a season-best time of 16:01, which ranks No. 2 in the division.
The individual race in boys 4A should be electric. Tanner Newkirk of Hayden has a season-best of 15:52, and Clay Center's Jaret Pfizenmaier has clocked 16:16. It is quite likely that those two - as well as Logue and Lindahl - will be fighting it out for a good portion of Saturday's race.
Wamego's boys may not have a front-runner, but they have perhaps the best pack among class 4A boys' teams. The squad won the El Dorado regional Saturday with a solid 43 second pack time. On its home course, Wamego could find the magic to make the podium, or even knock off Buhler and Girard.
Class 4A Snapshot
Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Wamego Country Club
Boys Start: 10:35 a.m.
Girls Start: 12:20 p.m.
2019 Kansas MileSplit Predictions
Boys individual champion: Tanner Lindahl, Buhler
Girls individual champion: Taylor Briggs, Chapman
Boys team champion: Girard
Girls team champion: Buhler