Saluting the Sacrifices Made by Kansas' runners

Lawrence Free State rolled to a perfect score of 15 to win their home meet, held at the Baldwin Country Club Saturday.

Now here's a cool idea for these times.

Lawrence Free State cross country coach Steve Heffernan believed that Kansas' athletes deserved a little pat on the back for the sacrifices and resilience they have shown this season. So, Heffernan greeted coaches at the Free State Invitational, held in Baldwin on Saturday, with a question: "Did you hear about the medals?"

This wasn't about a problem with a shipment of awards. Instead, Heffernan decided that every kid running on Saturday would get a medal, a symbol of all that kids and coaches, family and volunteers have done to make this very unique season a reality.

He handed a bag of medals to each coach as part of their pre-race packet pickup.

Most cross country coaches are pretty competitive folks. While they care about all the kids on the team, the truth is every one of them want to win. They want to win league...regionals...state (of course). They want to win their home meet. Maybe it's not win-at-all-costs type of winning, but they want to beat the field at every meet they go to.

And truth be told, most high school kids aren't in to participation medals, either. Most kids want to be challenged and want to earn what they get. They get a sense of accomplishment with winning a medal, whether it's a varsity, JV or 'C' medal.

But this year it's a little different.

This year is about being flexible. It's about wearing masks and staying six feet apart and taking your temperature and staying away from your team when you're feeling a little cough coming on. It's about no spectators and wave starts and foregoing team huddles and getting right back to the bus once you're done running - where, of course, you must sit six feet apart.

It's about missing Friday night pasta parties and school pep assemblies and gatherings in the hallways before and after practice. Passing on water fights with your teammates and foregoing watermelon and popsicles and ice cream.

Here we stand less than 21 days from holding the state championships in Kansas. Just last Thursday, the state of New Mexico cancelled all cross country activities for the rest of the season. Kansas Kids have faced the heartbreaks and sacrifices head on, and - so far - we have salvaged what in late August we feared could be a lost season.

So a medal for each of the runners at the Free State Invitational really is well-deserved. It's symbolic of everything that these runners have done to get to this point in the season.

Well done.


Heffernan's Free State boys, the No. 1 ranked team in class 6A, put on quite a show at Saturday's meet, posting a 1 through 5 perfect score finish to win handily. The Firebirds had 15 points to runner-up Shawnee Mission East's 49. Lawrence Free State's Ben Shryock won the race in 16:24, followed by the rest of his team: Christopher Stone (16:28), Ethan Sharp (16:33), Jack Keathley-Helms (16:46) and Brock Cordova (17:00).

Shawnee Mission East junior Grace Meyer (19:42) and senior Kate Kowalik (19:51) finished 1-2 to lead their team to the girls' title.

Tanner Newkirk of Hayden ran a career-best time for the third straight week, kicking off championship season in Kansas by winning the Topeka City title in a time of 15:31.6. Newkirk has run PRs on successive weeks - 15:40, 15:36 and now 15:31. He's the top-rated runner in class 4A, and has a win over 2019 Kansas Gatorade Runner of the Year Daniel Harkin of Manhattan to his credit.

But Newkirk's rival and primary challenger for the class 4A title one-upped him this week. Buhler's Tanner Lindahl clocked 15:26 to win the Sterling Invitational on Thursday. Lindahl was the class 4A state champion as a freshman in 2018, and third place last year (Newkirk was the runner-up). With defending class 4A champion Cormick Logue of Girard now dominating class 3A, the 4A state title may be decided by Lindahl and Newkirk in less than three weeks.

Washburn Rural sophomore Madeline Carter, a runner-up for the Topeka City championship last year, won the individual title this year going away, clocking a season and career-best of 18:59.6. Washburn Rural successfully defended the boys' and girls' team titles.

Best meet of the week? I'm voting for the Mark Chipman Cat Classic hosted by Mill Valley. The host Jaguars, who moved to class 5A this season, beat class 5A boys No. 1 ranked St. Thomas Aquinas, but Aquinas was running with what looks to be less than half of its regular varsity squad. Mill Valley scored 57, while Aquinas had 63.

The boys' individual race was a thriller. DeSoto's Carson Sturdy held off a hard-charging Tommy Hazen of St. Thomas Aquinas, winning the race in 15:49.7. Hazen was the runner-up in 15:56.7. Logan Read of Olathe Northwest was third (16:15.1) and Quenton Walion of Gardner-Edgerton - who has run class 6A's best time of 15:32.2 this season -- was fourth (16:23.7).

Riley Beach of Blue Valley Northwest won the individual title at the Cat Classic with another impressive time - 18:54.0. Beach was the class 6A state champion as a freshman in 2017 and appears primed to make another strong run at the top run of the podium.

Her finish led an impressive team win for Blue Valley Northwest, which scored 46 to down class 6A's No. 1 ranked Olathe West, which had 61. Mill Valley -- the two-time class 6A girls state champs now competing in class 5A -- also had 61, but settled for third based on the sixth-runner tiebreaker.

Blue Valley Northwest and Olathe West seem to be separating themselves as the top contenders for the class 6A girls' team title.

Other top performers this week...

Stanton County sophomore Chesney Peterson put up the top time in the state among Kansas girls this week, rolling to a career-best 18:15.8 at the Lakin Invitational. The time is 1:10 better than she ran at the same meet a year ago. Stanton County, the defending state champs in class 2A, rolled to the team title with three runners in the top four.

Erin Hammeke of Ellinwood, the defending state champion in class 2A, won her race this week, as well. The senior clocked 19:13 and won by nearly a minute at the Sterling Invitational. She and Peterson seem to be the two to watch for the class 2A individual state title this season.

Treyson True of Emporia got his second win of the season, topping the field at the El Dorado Invitational in a time of 16:23.2. Junior Kelsie Bruening (19:56.7) and freshman Julia Berends (20:01.7) finished 1-2, leading five Kapaun-Mt. Carmel girls in the top 10 and a team win with 26 points.

Class 5A girls' No. 2 ranked Maize South rocked the field at the Salina Invitational. Senior Alexa Rios (18:47.1), junior Britton Kelly (19:30.9) and sophomore Bowi Sargent (19:33.8) posted a 1-2-3 finish, highlighting a 25 point score. Dodge City's girls, led by a fifth place finish from Serenity Larson (19:53.2), scored 74 to edge Shawnee Mission North (78), which was led by Josie Tyrrell in fourth (19:38.2).

Trevor Maxwell of Shawnee Mission North won the boys' race at Salina, clocking 16:16.0. Maize South - which got a 2-3 finish from juniors Vaugh Decker (16:27.9) and Austin Schaeffer (16:29.2) - scored 58 to beat Shawnee Mission North (80) for the boys team title.

There was a pretty good race between sophomore Alfonso Rubio of Mission Valley and junior Cameron TenEyck of Silver Lake at the Osage City Invitational. The duo pulled away early from the rest of the field and duked it out for most the race before Rubio got free for the win, 16:42.8. TenEyck followed in 16:48.2.

Others who won races this week include:

* Freshman Kodi Downes of Council Grove (16:52.1) and sophomore Ashley Prochazka of Southeast of Saline (20:56.4) at the Riley County Invitational.

* Daniel Little of Jackson Heights (16:59, a two-second win over Marysville freshman Silas Miller) and Riley Smith of Baldwin (20:43.8) at the Sabetha Invitational. Smith's win led five in the top 10 for Baldwin, the No. 1 ranked team in class 4A.

* Shane Mullen of Shawnee Mission Northwest (17:10) and Hannah Gibson of Shawnee Mission South (19:33.1) at the Shawnee Schools Invitational.

* Tommy O'Leary of Spring Hill (17:52.2) and Grace Hanson of Piper (19:53.2) at the Louisburg Invitational.