Are we headed for another thriller in class 1A X-C?

It's about a two-hour drive, in three directions, from Doniphan West, Berean Academy and Lincoln high schools to the state cross country championship course in Wamego.

One year ago, the girl's teams from those three schools converged on the Wamego Country Club and waged a mighty battle for the Class 1A state cross country title.

After a tense wait for results, Doniphan West - a school north of Kansas City - was crowned state champs, just one point ahead of Berean - located east of Wichita. Lincoln, which hails northwest of Salina, was third, three points behind Berean.

Four points separated three teams. In cross country terms, that's a difference of a few seconds. An extra surge around Wamego's hairpin turns. One extra hard charge uphill. A few extra seconds of courage down the final sprint.

The delicious reality entering the 2020 season is that all three teams seem to be on a collision course for an encore. The defending champs return all six runners from last year's team, while Berean returns five of seven, and Lincoln returns all four of its runners.

A quick run through MileSplit's virtual meet gives a slight preseason nod to Berean, with 55 points, to 59 for both Lincoln and Doniphan West. That, despite the fact that Berean loses last year's fifth-place finisher at state, senior Brooke Wiebe.

Weibe is the only individual in the top six at state last year who is not back this season. Heading the list of returners is defending champion Jaycee Vath of Lincoln, who will be eyeing her third consecutive Class 1A cross country title this fall.

Vath out-ran Meade freshman Madison Sutterfield by 37 seconds to win a year ago. Vath finished second at the 2017 state cross country meet, and won the 1600 and 3200 meter runs at the 2019 track and field state championships. She appears to be this division's dominant female runner.

After Sutterfield (second at state last year), the other top returners are expected to be Olpe's Macy Smith (third last year), Doniphan West's Elle Williams (fourth) and Washington County's Natalie Roepke (sixth).

Senior Sonya Zimmerman is the top returner for Berean, along with junior Katherine Harms and sophomores Tayana Nord, Kessa Case, and Reagan Matzek.

In addition to Williams, Doniphan West's bid to repeat is expected to be led by junior Emma Albers and sophomores Chloe Clevenger, Claire Cole, Lilly Clark, and Aly Gobin. Three returning juniors - Raegen Stewart, Shelbie Ford, and Alex Biggs - are key for Lincoln's hopes for a team title.

In class 1A boys, a budding rivalry is expected to be renewed when Beloit St. John's Caleb Eilert and Hutchinson Central Christian's Collin Oswalt square off this season.

Oswalt, now a senior, emerged as a dominant runner in class 1A his sophomore season, when he swept state titles in cross country, 1600, and 3200. He beat Eilert by 21 seconds for the 2018 cross country crown.

But Eilert bounced back last year, winning by 27 seconds over Oswalt for the 2019 cross country title. His win on the grass made a lot of class 1A fans excited to see the two standouts match up on the track last spring.

That season, of course, never happened, so this fall is the first time the two will have a chance to go head-to-head again.

Others who have a shot at spoiling their party include Olpe's Nolan Redeker (fifth at state last year), Osborne's Reagan Bales (seventh), Berean's Drew Janzen (ninth) and LaCrosse's Blake Pierce (tenth).

Janzen's Berean team looks like a heavy favorite to defend the state title it won a year ago. Last year's fight was a close one; Berean scored 49 points to edge Axtell, which had 54.

Berean, which also boasts a potential top-five finisher in junior Eli Nord, returns its top four runners and six of seven while Axtell lost its top three from a year ago. It leaves Lacrosse (eighth a year ago) and Olpe (sixth last year) as the top contenders, but right now, it looks like a runaway for Berean.

But, as they say that's why they run the races. The intrigue in class 1A may be in finding out who might emerge as a team to challenge Berean's boys.