The 347-mile, five and one-half hour trip from Johnson City, Kansas to the class 2A state cross country championships in Wamego was well worth the ride for Stanton County last year.
The Trojans swept the boy's and girl's titles en route to coach Mike Horton being named the Kansas all-class Coach of the Year. The girls won by 26 points over perennial state contender Bennington, while the boys out-fought a feisty Richmond-Central Heights team for an eight point victory.
And, they may not be done.
Horton's girl's team returns its top five from last year, and six of its top 7. They enter the 2020 season as a prohibitive favorite to win the class 2A girls state title.
The boys should have another tussle on their hands. They lost Isaiah Barrera (fifth at state last year) to graduation, though they do return three of the top five and four of seven from the 2019 championship season.
In fact, McLouth's boys - fourth at state last year - figure to be the pre-season favorite for the class 2A boys state title. They likely bring back the best 1-2 punch in class 2A in sophomore Henry Cloud and junior Jared Plake, both of whom are capable of top 10 finishes at state this year. McLouth has six of its top 7 from last year returning to this year's team.
A darkhorse in class 2A boys? Central Heights is one, with returning seniors Luke Cotter and David Craft. Hutchinson-Trinity Catholic doesn't seem to have a front runner, but the team's depth could land that squad on the state podium.
Other top returners and strong contenders for the individual title include Trego Community senior Wyndom Giefer (third at state last year), Jackson Heights junior Daniel Little (fourth), Plainville senior Chase McCullough (sixth), Remington senior Asher Brown (seventh) and Canton-Galva junior Morgan Becker (eighth).
Stanton County's bid to repeat in class 2A girls is powered by a pair of sophomore front-runners. Suzanne Farnham was fourth at state last year, while teammate Chesney Peterson enters the 2020 season with a career-best time of 19:13 - the second best mark among all class 2A girls expected back this season.
Peterson had an off-day at last year's state meet, finishing 41st, but that would seem to be an anomaly. She's more likely to be among the top individuals at state this time around.
Bennington and upstart Rossville seem to be the teams best positioned to keep Stanton County from winning again. Bennington junior Ashlyn Harbaugh and senior Peyton Piepho lead their team, while senior Julia Streit and sophomore Amelia Foster are the top returners for Rossvile.
Ellinwood senior Erin Hammeke and Ellis sophomore Madi Russell could put on another thriller for the individual title. Hammeke won by eight seconds last year, but Russell was right on her heels for most of that race and should keep things interesting.