The Best Thing I Saw This Week

Caylyn Pfizenmaier of Clay Center, who was born with cerebral palsy, symbolizes the courage, commitment and drive of cross country runners.

Lake Milford is one of the prettiest backdrops for a cross country race in the state of Kansas. Runners snake along the eastern shore out-and-back along a tree-lined, 5000-meter loop. The sunrise on race mornings is one of the surest signs that God is the master artist.

But that remarkable scene was not the best thing I saw Saturday at the Bob Schmoekel Cross Country Invitational, hosted by Junction City.

Instead, it was Caylyn Pfizenmaier's 17th place finish in the girls 'C' race. Her time was 30:41 for 4000 meters. An average pace of 12:21 per mile.


The Best Thing I Saw This Weekend.

I realize 30:41 is not a time that will break any records. It won't challenge the state's Top Times list. Pfizenmaier won't win the girls state championship later this season.

But she won many hearts Saturday, as she has done for many of us who also watched her run for Clay Center Middle School the past two years.

Caylyn Pfizenmaier has cerebral palsy, a physical disability that affects movement and posture. The disease robs the body's ability to control muscle movement. Walking is tough enough. But running!?

Cerebral palsy is the hand that was dealt to Pfizenmaier, now a freshman at Clay Center High School. It's part of who she is, part of who she will be. She is a triplet: a sister didn't make it home from the hospital and a brother is wheelchair bound, also with cerebral palsy.

Out here on the cross country course, she's not Caylyn Pfizenmaier, the girl with cerebral palsy. She's Caylyn Pfizenmaier the cross country runner. She's an equal, and her teammates and competitors seem to treat her as such.

I'd take five of her any day for my team. She is courageous, she is bold. She runs on, step after step, perhaps uncertain if her body will keep her upright the next time she plants her foot.

We all know she likely won't get to the finish line before anyone else. We don't care. We wait. And wait.

And here comes Caylyn. At the back of the 'C' race. Many of the runners and parents from other teams have gone home already. But Caylyn fights up the last, brutal hill into the finish line at Junction City. Everyone - maybe 50 folks - clap and yell and encourage her on. Someone yells, "Way to Go, Caylyn!" Pfizenmaier glances at the clock, then focuses on the line. The timing chip on her shoe chirps as she crosses the blue mats.

And then she smiles. Like she did the first time I watched her run a one mile race two years ago. Like she did when I saw her run a two mile race one year ago. Saturday, she completed 4000 meters - roughly two and one-half miles.

A friend of mine - a parent at Clay Center High School - tells me that she cries every time she watches Caylyn run. I guess that explains the lump in my throat, and the thrill I get watching her "win" her race.

A hero? Sure, she is. Caylyn Pfizenmaier is a positive light for our sport. She represents cross country running equally as well as anyone running 5, 10 or 15 minutes faster than her. Her bravado, her commitment, her drive are the essence of what make this sport great.

Caylyn Pfizenmaier was the best runner I saw this weekend.


Among those runners who got to the finish line first, no one did it faster than Cormick Logue of Girard, who won a rematch against Hayden's Tanner Newkirk.

Logue charged down the final stretch to win the Maple Leaf Classic in Baldwin with a time of 15:34.18. Newkirk, who won the Sunflower Showdown in T-Town last week (where Logue finished third), was not far behind, finishing in 15:36.71.

These two guys know each other well. Logue won the class 4A state title last year in a great back-and-forth battle with Newkirk, who finished second, and Buhler's Tanner Lindahl (the state champ in 2018 and third last year).

Saturday was likely the last time we'll see these two together on a high school course. Girard is now a 3A school, while Hayden is in 4A. They're both the top-ranked runners in their respective divisions. Logue will graduate after this season; Newkirk is just a junior.

The Maple Leaf Invitational produced the top four boys' times in Kansas this week (as of results reported Saturday night) with Carson McEachern of Bishop Carroll in third (16:01.01) and Shane Mullen of Shawnee Mission Northwest fourth (16:09.17).

St. James Academy's boys put up an impressive 1:06 pack time and scored 52 points for the team title. Bishop Carroll placed second with 77.

Bishop Carroll junior Hope Jackson ran a season-best 18:30.62 to win the girls race at the Maple Leaf Invitational. It's seven seconds better than she ran to win the same race a year ago, when she was unbeaten en route to the class 5A state title. Her career best time is 18:17.30, run at the Wichita City meet last year, fractions of a second better than the 18:17.90 that she ran at Rim Rock Farm for the class 5A state championships.

Shawnee Mission Northwest sophomore Paige Mullen continues to climb the class 6A ranks. She finished second at the Maple Leaf Invitational with a season-best 19:08.79.

Jackson led her team's impressive win over host Baldwin. Bishop Carroll scored 42 while Baldwin - the current No. 1 ranked team in class 4A - finished with 52. Baldwin had a pack time of 1:26, led by Riley Smith (third, 19:51.75), Diana Messick (seventh, 20:19.36) and Jana Landreth (ninth, 20:24.89).

Bishop Carroll had three others in the top 10: Landon Forbes (sixth, 20:12.05), Sofia Wendell (eighth, 20:20.79) and Cameron Pascal (tenth, 20:26.87).

Around the state...

Jackson's time was the best among Kansas girls this week, but Alexa Rios of Maize South was not far behind. The senior clocked 18:49.70 to win the Newton Invitational. She was one of five Maize South runners in the top 10, as the Mavericks dominated the field of mostly 5A schools.

Kaiden Esfeld, a sophomore from Great Bend, won the boys' race in 16:39.30.

At the KC Cross Country Classic, hosted by Raymore-Peculiar High School, St. Thomas Aquinas' boys charged on, spurred by a 2-3 finish from senior Tommy Hazen (15:41.20) and junior Logan Seger (15:43.70). Carson Sturdy of DeSoto was right on their heels, clocking 15:49.30 to finish fourth. There were 253 runners in the boys' varsity race.

St. Thomas Aquinas scored 70 points to win the meet. Central High of St. Joseph (Mo.) was second with 88. Mill Valley's boys -- which had a 16-second, five-man pack between 26th and 53rd places -- placed fifth (193) and DeSoto was sixth (197).

Shawnee Mission South sophomore Hannah Gibson led all Kansas girls with a second place finish in a  18:56.1, just five seconds off her career-best run the previous week. Another sophomore, Shawnee Mission East's Grace Meyer, finished fourth in 19:14.1. Mill Valley's girls placed second in the meet, scoring 114; Missouri powerhouse Blue Springs South won with 90.

Erik Enriquez of Kapaun Mt. Carmel won the windy Bob Schmoekel Invitational in 16:10.20, while Manhattan's Jenna Keeley topped the girls' field in 19:20.00. Both won by nearly a minute.

Class 2A defending state champion Erin Hammeke of Ellinwood won the Halstead Invitational with a time of 19:14 - the fifth best time by a Kansas girl this week - out-running class 3A defending state champion Jentrie Alderson from Southeast of Saline (19:59.0).

At the Syracuse Invitational, Stanton County sophomore Chesney Peterson - a rising star in class 2A -- clocked 19:13.59 for first place. It will be interesting to watch Peterson and Hammeke battle it out at state later this month.

Class 1A girls state champion Jaycee Vath of Lincoln - a senior aiming for her third straight crown - won the Beloit Invitational in 19:33.0. That's 38 seconds faster than she had run so far this season.

The Olathe schools got together for The Battle of the Birds on Saturday. Olathe West, the top-ranked team in class 6A girls, dominated the field with four runners in the top 7. Bree Newport (19:26.6) and Kate Miller (19:29.7) posted a 1-2 finish for Olathe West. Lexie Dockstader of Olathe North (19:42.1) and Melody Ochana of Olathe East (19:44.6) also made things interesting for most of the race.

Logan Read of Olathe Northwest (16:29.4) posted a 13-second win over Carter Stewart of Olathe East (16:42.4).

A week ago, Ryan Heline of Smoky Valley rallied to win in a photo finish over Southeast of Saline's Luke Gleason. This week at the Halstead Invitational, Heline won easily, clocking 16:12.0 while Gleason was second in 16:44.

Some other race winners this week include Craig Labrue of Winfield (16:30.0), Kodi Downes of Council Grove (16:41.0) and Caleb Eilert of Beloit (16:38.5) at their respective home meets; Wyndom Giefer of Trego Community at the Ness City Invitational (16:40.3); Katie Hazen of Derby at the Winfield Invitational (19:41.0); Sydney Owens of Eudora at the Council Grove Invitational (20:12.0); and Serenity Larson of Dodge City in the Varsity B race of the Newton Invitational (20:00.0).

Parting words...

Following the Centennial League middle school championships Friday at Milford Lake, many friends, family and former athletes of the late Bob Schmoekel got together to celebrate his memory. The longtime and very successful Junction City coach died of heart failure on March 27.

The torturous finishing stretch for the middle school meet - and the high school meet the next day - was imprinted in bold, capital letters: COACH, in honor of Schmoekel.

A funeral for Schmoekel was held earlier Friday. The evening memorial was held to honor the coach who was beloved for his kind, human nature, and who was instrumental in building a first-class cross country course at Lake Milford. The memorial was also attended by a Who's Who of current and past Kansas coaches, many of whom competed against Schmoekel's teams for years.