In a division that is dripping with great storylines, it would take someone or something pretty special to steal the show in Kansas class 4A cross country.
Hello, Taylor Briggs.
The Chapman senior's quest to become just the sixth four-time state cross country champion in Kansas history will have everyone's attention when the 2020 season kicks off.
If she can win one more time on the Wamego Country Club course, Briggs would join an elite club of Kansas cross country royalty that includes Amy Mortimer of Riley County (class 3A, 1995-1998); Dodie Martin of Stanton County (class 1A/2A, 1995-1998); Trisa Nicoley of Shawnee Heights (class 5A, 2000-2003); Laura Roxberg of Blue Valley Northwest (class 6A, 2004-2007); and Cailie Logue of Girard (class 4A, 2013-2016).
There has never been a male cross country runner in Kansas to have won four state titles.
Interestingly, class 4A was the last division to yield a four-time winner when Logue completed the feat four years ago. Briggs has held the crown since then and is on the cusp of being the only other runner not named Cailie Logue to have won the 4A girls state title over the past eight years.
Briggs has never been beaten in a state meet - spanning three cross country seasons and two track and field seasons (1600 and 3200 meter runs). She's a perfect 7-for-7 in her high school years when the stakes are at their highest.
Hanson had a season-best of 18:50 for 5K last year and ran every bit like an emerging star at the state meet. She faded late in the race and wound up 31 seconds behind Briggs in second place, but she had aptly served notice that she was the runner most capable of running with Briggs.
Now back as a sophomore, Hanson's career-best (18:50) is just 15 seconds off Briggs' fastest high school time (18:35), so she stands as the biggest obstacle to Kansas cross country history being made in the class 4A meet.
That, of course, is assuming no one else rises to the top. Right now, everyone else is at least a minute off Briggs' career best, but some of those capable of taking the next step include Baldwin junior Riley Smith, Pratt junior Addie Hoeme, Buhler senior Leah Bentley, and Bishop Miege junior Grace Meyer - all top 10 finishers at state last year.
Briggs' senior season is scheduled to begin at the Abilene Invitational on Sept. 3 where she is likely to square off against Southeast of Saline's strong corp of runners, which includes returning class 3A state champion Jentrie Alderson.
The class 4A girls team title is likely to be decided by...surprise, surprise...Buhler, Baldwin and Eudora. Those three teams have taken all of the podium trophies the past two seasons, and they seem to be the division's best again this year.
Buhler won the class 4A girls crown last year by 14 points. In addition to Bentley, key returners include senior Amaleigh Mattison and sophomore Lindsay Warner. The current MileSplit virtual meet projections give the nod to Buhler to repeat as state champs this season.
Baldwin, though, has long been a dominant force in class 4A cross country. The squad has 11 state titles since 2002, the most recent coming in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before finishing as runner-up last year. The squad has state experience throughout its lineup, headed by senior Ambrynn Stewart and juniors Riley Smith (sixth at state last year), Jana Landreth and Abigail Patterson.
Eudora has a third place finish (2019) and a runner-up finish (2018) to its credit the past two years. They'll likely be led by senior Kate Erpelding and sophomore Phoebe Fletcher in trying to take the next step up the podium.
In class 4A boys, Buhler enters the 2020 season as a heavy favorite to capture its third straight state title, with an all star cast of returners led by 2018 state champion Tanner Lindahl (who finished third at state a year ago). Other key returners include seniors Colton Lohrentz and Cordell Hendrickson; juniors Brayden Dressman and Hayden Keller; and sophomores Spencer Hines and Wyatt Bunce.
Wamego, which was the state runner-up last year with a team of mostly freshmen, leads a pack of teams fighting for podium spots. The Red Raiders bring back all seven runners from last year's state team, including senior Jacob White and sophomores Jon Cutting, Emery Wolfe and Brady Stegman.
In the individual race, 14 of the 20 medalists from 2019 are returning, topped by defending state champion Cormick Logue of Girard, who won an early back-and-forth battle with Lindahl and Hayden's Tanner Newkirk to win his first title. He's the younger brother of Cailie, and his ascension to the top of 4A brought the fifth cross country title to the family home.
Logue is the preseason favorite, but he's likely to be challenged again. Last year's top five finishers return, including (in order) Newkirk, Lindahl, Winfield senior Craig Labrue and Tonganoxie sophomore Eli Gilmore. Augusta junior Sawyer Schmidt and Hayden senior Dawson Adams add a little more spice to the individual race.