Riley County Invitational Recap

Southeast of Saline's Luke Gleason had to adjust his race plan on the fly to account for Council Grove's Kodi Downes. Photo by Jessica Sprecker. Check out more photos from the meet here!

A star-studded cast was in action on Friday at the Leonardville golf course for the Riley County invitational. One of the most storied programs in the state, Riley County is known for putting on well-run events. The Falcons have hosted the regular season finale for decades, and it's always a fun one. This year was no exception, as 22 schools came out to battle on a perfect fall morning.

The meet kicked off at 9:30 with the middle school girls. Wabaunsee's Payton Wurtz had a very hot start, leading the field by 60 yards half a mile into the race. Leading the rest of the pack were Riley County 7th grader Mikaila Frese and Southeast of Saline's Abby Commerford. Wurtz's lead would not hold, as the pack reeled her back in by the halfway mark, with Commerford and then Frese passing her early in mile 2. Washington County's Kenzie Baker and SE Saline's Cali Augustine were on her heels as well with half a mile left. Commerford would win it in 13:13, with Frese not far behind in 13:25. Washington County's Kenzie Baker would win the battle for 3rd in 13:40.

Next up, middle school boys. Team points aren't usually kept in middle school races, but you can bet that Southeast of Saline and Council Grove were keeping track. They are two of the best middle school teams in the state, ranking top-6 all classes in both the 3200 and 2-mile distances. For those keeping track, Southeast pulled out the 31-52 victory. Individually, though, things were a different story. Shot out of a cannon, Sacred Heart's Brady Wells took no prisoners en route to a 11:34 victory. Jace Fry out of SE Saline was in the neighborhood, finishing in 11:46, but the commanding style of Wells made the gap feel much larger. Council Grove's Levi Waring was third across the line in 11:58.

The girls race featured defending 3A champ Jentrie Alderson. The SE Saline junior was the early leader in mile 1. Trailing her was a sizeable group that included Silver Lake's Mariah Farmer, Cornerstone's Evie Gentry, and fellow SE Saline runner Ashley Prochazka. As the course finished the first loop and was heading up a long hill that led into loop two, Alderson suffered what appeared to be a cramp and was forced to drop from the race. Suddenly, the Trojans were in a fight for the team title against Silver Lake. SE Saline's Prochazka took over the duties at the front, putting a substantial gap between herself and the field. This was a key move as Silver Lake's Mariah Farmer had been on her heels up to that point.

Flinthills Christian's Michaela Crow, Beloit-St John's Jane Letourneau, Fredonia's Campbell O'Dell, and Silver Lake's Aubrey Bahner were all that remained of the chase pack at the two-mile mark. Ashley Prochazka won it, her first ever victory, with a 20:56. As they came through towards the finish, O'Dell emerged with a strong finish to overtake Farmer in the final hundred yards. Her 21:27 was a 4 second edge over Farmer's 21:32. Rounding out the top-5 were Silver Lake's Aubrey Bahner in 21:40 and Flinthills Christian's Michaela Crow in 21:46. Despite the scare of losing their leader, Southeast held on to win the team title 57-68 over Silver Lake. The Trojans had plenty of runners step up and rally for their fallen teammate. Alderson appeared to be walking around later on, so hopefully the defending champ will be ready to roll again soon.

Speaking of defending champs being ready to roll, SE Saline's Dylan Sprecker is eyeing a return to the course. The junior suffered a foot injury early in the season but is hopeful that Riley County will be his last meet on the sideline. Despite his absence, the Trojans have had a dominating season, and Saturday was no different. I'll save the drama: Southeast of Saline perfect scored a meet with 22 schools. Yep, 15 points, and a single Royal Valley runner broke up their 6th and 7th men from taking the next two spots. However, the meet was not without excitement. A few individuals without full teams were in the mix at the front.

The race was a highly anticipated battle between seniors Luke Gleason from SE Saline and Caleb Eilert from Beloit-St John. The two have finished at or near the front of this meet multiple times, Gleason was 5th in 3A last year and Eilert is the defending 1A champ. After the first quarter mile, though, neither was at the front. Instead, Council Grove freshman Kodi Downes was already trying to put distance between himself and the field. The term "rookie mistake" was murmured a few times among the spectators, as most inexperienced runners will falter after such a start. Gleason spent the better part of the next quarter mile closing that gap, and the two were together again at the mile mark, coming through at 5:12. Eilert wasn't more than a few seconds back.

Gleason took a momentary lead as they looped back around towards the starting line, a long incline lied ahead. Downes powered up that hill and erased any lingering doubts in anyone's mind. This kid was for real. He opened a 25-yard lead that would hold for the next mile. Eilert was still hanging 30 yards back from Gleason at the 4K mark, but that gap was ever-so-slowly closing. At the final 300-yard incline to the finish, Downes showed his hill strength again, dashing any final hopes from those behind him. He wowed the crowd with an impressive 16:52 victory. Gleason had little left in the tank for a kick and was ousted by Eilert in the final stretch. The St John senior would come through at 17:03. Luke Gleason would be the first Southeast of Saline runner across the line, and his teammates would grab 7 of the next 8 places to dismantle the remainder of the field. Brothers Dominic and Damion Jackson would round out the top-5 with times of 17:36 and 18:10 respectively.