Kansas MileSplit reporter Pat Melgares is previewing this week's state cross country championships. Today, we conclude the series with class 6A.
If you're heading out to the Kansas cross country championships at Rim Rock Farm on Saturday, do yourself a favor: Do not leave early.
The chase for the class 6A girls title - set to start shortly after noon -- may just be the most exciting race of the weekend, highlighting 11 girls who have run sub-19:00 this season.
Class 6A also features what is likely the best girls' team in Kansas, regardless of classification, in the mighty Mill Valley Jaguars, led by senior standout Morgan Koca and sophomore Katie Schwartzkopf, who won the 6A state title last year as a freshman.
Mill Valley returns 6 of 7 girls who won the team title last year, and they are a relentless force, routinely putting together miniscule pack times. Most teams try to put five runners closely together; Mill Valley often has a wave of six or seven runners.
Koca and Schwartzkopf have a great shot at winning the individual title. Koca has been the team's top runner for most of the season, while Schwartzkopf has been a steady No. 2 and was the team's top runner earlier this season at the Rim Rock Classic.
Blue Valley sophomore Tori Wingrove, however, has beaten both of the Mill Valley standouts in two head-to-head matchups this season, including most recently for the Eastern Kansas League championship. She is unbeaten in six races at the 5K distance this season.
Wingrove also ran a faster time (18:32) at regionals than Koca (18:40) and Schwartzkopf (18:57), where the trio ran in different races but on the same course at Johnson County Community College.
But, alas, this is probably not a three-person race. The class 6A girls field is stacked with nearly a dozen girls who could win the title. That list includes Sarah Whitaker and Kaylee Tobaben of Olathe North; Bella Call and Katherine Soule of Blue Valley West; Jenna Keeley and Ella Rosenkranz of Manhattan; Melody Ochana of Olathe East; and Aubree Blackman of Olathe West.
Of those, Blackman is very intriguing. She's the lone freshman on the list, but the state title in class 6A has been won by a freshman each of the past two years - Schwartzkopf last year and Blue Valley Northwest's Riley Beach two years ago (Beach won't be running this year due to injury).
In reality, I wish I had a multi-sided coin. I really think the 6A girls race is a toss-up. It will be a fun race for spectators.
Daniel Harkin of Manhattan has rightly earned the title as favorite heading into the class 6A boys' race. He burst on to college coaches' recruiting speed dial in mid-September when he clocked 15:11 to win the multi-state Missouri Southern Stampede in Joplin, Mo. He backed that effort up with a 15:14 to win the Centennial League title two weeks ago.
Harkin was the state runner-up in cross country a year ago, and the state champion at 3200 meters last spring. The junior has beaten all of the top contenders in class 6A head-to-head this season.
But state titles are not won with regular-season accolades,
and Harkin is likely to get a strong fight from Mill Valley's Darius Hightower,
Lawrence Free State's Charles Johnson and Wichita North's Michael Iyali, all of whom are seniors.
Hightower is on a roll, having won the Eastern Kansas League (15:52) and regional (15:58) meets the past two weekends. He was the only class 6A runner to post a time under 16:00 at regionals.
Johnson was the runner-up to Harkin at last week's regionals, and seems to have late-season momentum. He ran a career-best 16:12 to win the Sunflower League two weekends ago.
Iyali placed third at the state meet a year ago. He has not finished outside of the top 3 at any meet this season, including a win at the Wichita City League two weeks ago.
Regional champion Justyn France, who could also make a run for the individual title, leads Olathe South, which has never won a state cross country title. The squad had a 36 second pack time at regionals, and five in the top 15, including Kaleb Santisteban, Jacob Berezoski, Matthew Tolman and Rhys Allen.
Lawrence Free State, Manhattan, Washburn Rural - who matched up at last week's Junction City regional - Wichita East and Olathe East are likely to fight it out for the third spot on the podium. Wichita East's Jack Walsh (16:13) and Dylan Stoltzfus (16:22) placed 1-2 to lead a dominating team win at regionals.
Class 6A Snapshot
Saturday, Nov. 2 at Rim Rock Farm, Lawrence
Boys Start: 10:35 a.m.
Girls Start: 12:20 p.m.
2019 Kansas MileSplit Predictions
Boys individual champion: Daniel Harkin, Manhattan
Girls individual champion: Tori Wingrove, Blue Valley
Boys team champion: Olathe South
Girls team champion: Mill Valley