Kansas MileSplit reporter Pat Melgares is previewing this week's state cross country championships. Today, we look at class 5A, and will conclude the series with class 6A on Thursday.
Things just got ver-r-r-y interesting in Kansas class 5A cross country.
St. James Academy's girls squad waited patiently for nearly the entire season to get its full team together. Sarah Murrow, who swept cross country, 1600 and 3200 meter state titles last year, was nursing herself back from injury, while fellow senior Katie Moore raced a limited schedule, which included sitting out the Eastern Kansas League meet - which was Murrow's first race back.
Well, guess what? Just a few days from the 2019 championship race and St. James Academy has to be the odds-on favorite to win the 5A girls team title.
Moore's winning time of 18:39.1 at Saturday's regional meet has vaulted her to the No. 2 time among 5A girls, and Murrow's runner-up finish in 18:52.5 has her sitting at No. 4. Last Saturday was the first time this season that St. James has fielded the seven runners that many thought the Thunder would have in uniform this year.
Great Bend projects as the best team in class 5A entering Saturday...if they had a full squad. However, they'll run without senior leader Mayra Ramirez, whose religious beliefs prohibit running on Saturdays.
Ramirez is a top five contender, with a season best of 19:11. She has won all six races she did run this season - all on Thursdays. With Ramirez, Great Bend was a 20 point favorite to win the 5A girls title.
Defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas is in the mix again, with senior Allison Strathman leading the way. She's run the fifth fastest time in class 5A this season (18:56). The Saints have another solid seven with seniors Sarah Lebourveau and Kathleen Muckerman; juniors Ellie Ward and Kate Marshall; sophomore Alexis Huddin; and freshman Taylor Yeater.
Blue Valley Southwest, runner-up to Aquinas a year ago, packs a solid punch with senior McKenna Polus and juniors Gigi Loffredo (the individual runner-up last year) and Brinn Wilson. Emporia brings its best team in several years to this year's meet, and has an outside shot at grabbing a podium spot.
St. James Academy beat Aquinas and Blue Valley Southwest head-to-head at last week's regional meet, further cementing its favorite status heading into Saturday. The Thunder won the school's first-ever state crown in cross country in 2017.
Among individuals, Hope Jackson of Bishop Carroll has been the best runner in class 5A for the entire season. The sophomore has won every race she's entered this year, including a win at the Rim Rock Farm Classic in September, where she finished in 18:31.4. She's got a season best of 18:17.3 to win the Wichita City League meet two weeks ago.
St. Thomas Aquinas' boys seem to be the runaway favorite to win the team title, which would be their sixth straight championship. Sophomore Logan Seger and senior Aiden Higgerson lead the Saints' charge this time around. St. Thomas Aquinas scored 23 points to easily win its regional meet over Blue Valley Southwest (52) and St. James Academy (55).
DeSoto, Lansing, Great Bend and Andover will be in a dogfight for the other spots on the podium. Andover was in a similar spot last year and emerged to finish as the class 5A runner-up in a tight field.
DeSoto has a strong contender for the individual title in Carson Sturdy, who won the regional meet last week in 15:43, the top time in class 5A this season.
The race for the boys' individual title, though, could be a cluster of as many as a dozen runners, including Emporia's Treyson True, Lansing's Liam Neidig and Terry Robinson, Andover's Ryan Kinnane, Eisenhower's Austin Fullerton, Kapaun Mt. Carmel's Erik Enriquez, and Aquinas' Seger and Higgerson.
My crystal ball likes Kinnane, the top returner from last year (fourth), who runs really well at Rim Rock Farm. He was also the runner-up at this year's Rim Rock Farm Classic, at the time running a career best time of 15:59. The only Kansas runner to have beaten Kinnane this season is Manhattan's Daniel Harkin, the class 6A 3200 meter champion and the favorite to win the 6A cross country title on Saturday.
Class 5A Snapshot
Saturday, Nov. 2 at Rim Rock Farm, Lawrence
Boys Start: 12:55 p.m.
Girls Start: 11:10 a.m.
Defending team champions: St. Thomas Aquinas (boys); St. Thomas Aquinas (girls)
2019 Kansas MileSplit Predictions
Boys individual champion: Ryan Kinnane, Andover
Girls individual champion: Hope Jackson, Bishop Carroll
Boys team champion: St. Thomas Aquinas
Girls team champion: St. James Academy