It was a good old-fashioned throwdown between some of Kansas' best runners during the second week of the cross country season.
The week featured a crystal ball look at some of the more juicy state championship matchups in classes 1A through 4A; a pair of head-to-head duals between former state champs and state runner-ups; and a dominating win by a Kansas girl who appears destined to add her name to the list of all-time greats.
Some of the best of this week
In Wamego, Hayden's Tanner Newkirk and Buhler's Tanner Lindahl battled for the individual title in the meet's class 4A division. It was a storybook matchup that we could thank the Ghosts of State Championships Past...and State Championships Future.
Nearly a year ago on the same course, Newkirk and Lindahl -- both juniors -- found themselves in a back-and-forth battle with Girard's Cormick Logue for the class 4A state title. Logue fought both off to win the individual championship in a time of 16:13.30.
Newkirk finished second while Lindahl - the 2018 state champion as a freshman - was third.
Logue, a senior, wasn't on hand Saturday - two days earlier, he won his own home invitational in a state-best time of 15:17 -- but Newkirk and Lindahl nonetheless staged another thriller on Wamego's switchback course. With expectations high and many eyes on the dynamic duo, Newkirk pulled away to win in 15:56.9, while the gutsy Lindahl came rolling in at 16:04.8.
Newkirk's time was nearly 30 seconds faster than he ran at last year's state meet on the same course; Lindahl was more than 40 seconds faster. Both beat Logue's 2019 winning time.
Is anybody excited yet to see these two get together with Logue on October 31?
Meanwhile, there was another great matchup between two of the state's best boys runners in Emporia.
Manhattan's Daniel Harkin, the 2019 Kansas Gatorade Runner of the Year, took on Emporia's Treyson True on his home course. Harkin was the 6A state champ a year ago, while True was the class 5A runner-up.
A week earlier, True defeated Harkin at Manhattan's Warner Park, running a state-best time of 15:38. It was the second time in the last three meetings between the two that True had out-run Harkin.
But on Saturday, Harkin turned the tables when he surged in the last 600 meters to gap True and post an eight-second victory. Harkin finished in 15:52.80 on another twisting and turning course that rarely gives up times south of 16:00. True was pretty good, too, finishing second in 16:00.80.
The two standouts have now split their last four meetings. They are currently scheduled to match up two times more this season: Sept. 25 at a meet hosted by Washburn Rural, and Oct. 17 at the Centennial League Championships - which will also feature Hayden's Newkirk.
Among Kansas girls, the eye-popper of the week also came in Wamego - but not because of a close matchup.
In fact, nobody right now seems to get anywhere close to Chapman's Taylor Briggs, who roared to victory in the class 4A girls race in another career-best time, 18:10.2. Briggs, a three-time state champion who could become just the sixth four-time cross country winner in Kansas ever, won Saturday by more than two minutes. Serenity Larson of Dodge City, who ran 18:57 to win the junior race at the Hesston Invitational, is the only other Kansas girl to run under 19:00 this season.
Briggs' time Saturday was 50 seconds faster than she ran to win the class 4A state title last year, also in Wamego.
Most years, the best meet of the second week in Kansas is in Wamego, largely because more than 70 of the state's 1A through 4A schools come to get a preview of the state championship meet course. It makes for a highly-competitive meet, and also an early look at the contenders for state titles in those divisions.
In class 2A, you gotta like Trego Community's Wyndom Giefer for an individual state title. He won the class 1A/2A/3A race this weekend in a solid time of 16:38.1. Giefer started from wave 2, one minute behind wave 1, and caught everyone from the first wave with just a little more than a half mile to go. Asher Brown of Remington, also running from wave 2, placed second in 17:04.
Giefer is the No. 2 ranked boys runner in class 2A entering this season. He finished 43rd at state last year, running with an illness. He was more than two minutes faster in winning Saturday compared to his finish at the same meet a year ago.
Among girls, Ellinwood's Erin Hammeke looked pretty good in winning the 1A/2A/3A race at Wamego, clocking 19:43.78. Hammeke is the defending state champion in class 2A. Her time Saturday was not quite the 19:12 she ran to win the state title a year ago, but it was 1:07 better than she ran to finish third at the Wamego Invitational last year.
Two girls teams that emerged as state title contenders: Whitewater-Remington and Bishop Seabury, both in class 2A. Remington, led by sixth place finisher Lucy Brown (21:35), won the team title in the 1A/2A/3A race, while Bishop Seabury placed third, led by sophomore Oona Nelson (third on Saturday) and freshman Isabelle Pro.
Christ Preparatory, a private Christian school not eligible for the Kansas State High School championships, lapped the field in the boys 1A/2A/3A race, scoring 42 points for a 91 point win over Marysville. Silver Lake's boys, runner-up in class 3A a year ago, finished third.
Two-time defending state champion Buhler won the class 4A division boys team title, while Baldwin's girls scored 29 points to smoke rival Eudora by 40 points. Baldwin's dominating win was powered by five runners in the top ten: junior Riley Smith (fifth), senior Ambrynn Stewart (seventh), junior Diana Messick (eighth), junior Jana Landreth (ninth) and freshman Bailey Smith (tenth).
Eudora freshman Sydney Owens could be one of the state's newest young lions. She finished second in the class 4A race to Briggs, finishing in 20:16.
Around the state...
DeSoto's Carson Sturdy won for the second consecutive week, posting the weekend's second best time by a Kansas boy in winning the Mill Valley Invite in 15:44.8. He out-ran a strong field led by St. Thomas Aquinas' Tommy Hazen (second in 15:58.2) and Logan Seger (16:05.4), Liberty North's Ethan Lee (16:12.9) and Lawrence Free State's Ben Shryock (16:15.1).
Olathe North's Kaylee Tobaben finished second at the Mill Valley Invite, leading her team to an impressive 10 point win over the host Jaguars, the two-time defending state champs in class 6A. Olathe North unveiled a pair of strong freshman runners: Anjall Hocker Singh was fourth in 19:40.7 and Shea Johnson was sixth in 20:01.7
Wichita Collegiate's Cj Meyer, a sophomore, won the Hesston Invitational in 15:45.7. He was the sophomore division winner, and five seconds faster than Smoky Valley's Ryan Heline, who clocked 15:50 to win the senior division.
At the same meet, Jocelyn Sosa of Garden City won the class 4A/5A/6A sophomore race with a time of 19:24, and Southeast of Saline's Jentrie Alderson, last year's class 3A state champion who was making her season debut, won the 1A/2A/3A junior race in 19:30. Alayna Cossaart of Minneapolis won the sophomore division in 19:37.
Other highlights in Kansas cross country this week include a win by Council Grove freshman Kodi Downes at the Lyndon Invitational. Downes clocked 17:16 for an eight-second win over Kansas City Christian junior Josh Howard.
KC Christian's Alysia Wagner, fifth in the class 2A state championships last year, won the girls race at Lyndon, finishing in a career-best 19:19.3.
Lenny Njoroge of Topeka West won the Joe Schrag Invitational at Hummer Park in 16:46.8, while Washburn Rural sophomore Madeline Carter (20:12) and freshman Sydney Laster (20:23) finished 1-2 in the girls' race.
And how about this introduction to high school running for Marysville freshman Silas Miller? On Thursday, he debuted with a win at his team's home meet (18:22), then two days later finished seventh in the 1A/2A/3A division at Wamego (18:02).
Good news out of Kansas City
It was a good week for Kansas cross country as the Shawnee Mission and Kansas City, Kansas school districts voted late last week to resume fall sports. For cross country, it means that all divisions are back to full strength; prior to last week (when Wichita schools also got back in the game), there were just 23 class 6A schools expected to field cross country teams this season, but now that division is up to 36.
Class 5A, which had lost five teams to the pandemic, is also now up to its 36 team norm.
With all Kansas schools now competing in the traditional fall sports season, the decision by the Kansas State High School Activities Association more than two weeks ago to offer an alternative fall season in the spring seems to be a moot point. The deadline is just eight days away (Sept. 21) for schools to declare themselves out for fall and eligible for the alternative season next March and April.
A lot could change in a week, but it certainly seems that the possibility of fall sports taking place in the spring is somewhere between slim and none...and slim has his eye on the door about right now.