Tanner Lindahl of Buhler out-ran the field at the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail Division 4 championships. (Kansas Milesplit photo by Lathe Cobb)
Championship season rolled into high gear in Kansas this week with nearly every team in the state heading to their respective league championships.
For most, this is a much-anticipated week. It's the meet that I like to think of as the one for bragging rights - many of the kids who went toe-to-toe this week are from neighboring towns or counties. Some may be related, so Thanksgiving dinner could get very interesting. These are kids that may hang out together over Christmas break, or get together for winter conditioning. Or they may be teammates later on in their local track club.
In other words, familiarity with one another often spurs some really great battles during league week in Kansas.
For certain, there were some pretty great races.
The fastest boys' race was at the Sunflower League championships where Lawrence Free State's Ben Shryock - who looks a lot like a top four runner in class 6A - won a thriller. Shryock out-kicked teammate Christopher Stone to win in 15:30.2; Stone was second at 15:32.2, where he just nipped Shawnee Mission Northwest's Shane Mullen (15:32.9).
The Sunflower League went to a night-time format for its JV and varsity races Saturday, taking advantage of cool temperatures, tame winds and a fast course. It made for a very competitive race, which also proved to be the case in the girls' title chase.
Hannah Gibson of Shawnee Mission South led a tidal wave of Sunflower League runners to the finish, winning a thrilling battle against Olathe North's Anjali Hocker Singh. Gibson, fifth in last year's class 6A state championships, finished in 18:09.4 for a three-second win over Hocker Singh, who crossed in 18:12.2. Those were the top two times posted in Kansas this week.
Eleven Sunflower League girls finished under 19:00.
At the Centennial League championships in Topeka, class 6A defending champion Daniel Harkin of Manhattan - also the 2019 Gatorade Kansas Runner of the Year - avenged an earlier defeat to Hayden's Tanner Newkirk, a strong contender for this year's class 4A title.
Newkirk defeated Harkin Sept. 26 at the Sunflower Showdown in T-Town in a thrilling kick to the finish. But on a windy Saturday, Harkin ran from the front, building a 10 second lead by the halfway point and holding on for a five-second win. Outside of the Sunflower League, they had the top two times in Kansas - 15:35.8 for Harkin and 15:41.0 for Newkirk.
Newkirk can expect another marquee matchup in two weeks at the class 4A meet, where 2018 state champion Tanner Lindahl of Buhler likely waits. Lindahl got a pretty good battle from Augusta junior Sawyer Schmidt in the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail Division 3 race, before winning in 15:44.85. Schmidt ran a gutsy race and finished in 16:02.74.
More crowd pleasers? How 'bout these:
* It is so good to see Blue Valley Northwest senior Riley Beach back and running well. The 2017 class 6A state champion as a freshman, Beach has struggled with injuries the past couple years. On Thursday, she won the Eastern Kansas League title in 18:28.6, nearly a minute faster than runner-up Gigi Loffredo of Blue Valley Southwest (19:19.1), the 2018 class 5A state runner-up.
* Out west, I loved the efforts by Chesney Peterson of Stanton County and Lara Murdock of Colby. Peterson, a strong contender for the class 2A state title this year, won the Hi-Plains League in 18:46.59, while Murdock - second in the class 3A championships a year ago - won the Great West Activities Conference in 18:51.
* Kaiden Esfeld of Great Bend turned a close race into a comfortable 20 second win, clocking 15:54 for the Western Athletics Conference championship. Garden City's Devin Chappel gave it a good run, but settled for second in 16:14.3.
* Neither Cormick Logue of Girard nor Taylor Briggs of Chapman got too much of a challenge in winning their respective league meets, but heck, it's just fun to watch these two run. Logue, the favorite for the class 3A title this year (he won in 4A a year ago), Logue won the Crawford-Neosho-Cheroke League in 16:24.4, while Briggs rolled to the North Central Kansas League title in 19:03.3 - winning by nearly three minutes.
* Jenna Keeley of Manhattan played a familiar script in running from the front to win the Centennial League title. It was a gutsy strategy on a day when wind gusts reached as high as 40 mph on Topeka's Stateland Course. Her time was 18:45. Washburn Rural's Maddie Carter also braved the conditions and ran a career-best for the second-straight week, finishing in 18:54.1.
* Southeast of Saline's Luke Gleason won the North Central Activities Association title in 16:36.7, but many were watching the battle shape up for second place. That's where 2019 class 3A state champion Dylan Sprecker - Gleason's teammate - was racing for the first time in a month after recovering from a stress fracture. Sprecker (17:05.7) out-leaned another teammate, Dominic Jackson (17:05.8) for the silver medal.
* It appears as though Bishop Carroll junior Hope Jackson is rounding into fine form. The defending state champion in class 5A, Jackson clocked 18:59.5 to win a dual meet with Kapaun-Mt. Carmel. Kelsey Bruening of Kapaun was second in 19:40.3, leading her team's one-point win over their cross-city foe.
* I don't get a chance to see runners from Wichita too often, but one that intrigues me is Wichita Collegiate's Cj Meyer. The sophomore won the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail Division 4 race on Saturday, clocking 16:43.5. We'll see what happens in a couple weeks, but he looks like top 10 (maybe top 5?) material at state to me.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association lists 40 leagues for Kansas schools on its website. Some of those did not hold league championships this year due to the ongoing pandemic. As of Saturday night, Kansas MileSplit has results of 23 league meets.
Here's a listing of girls and boys league champions that we have results for as of Saturday night:
Centennial -Jenna Keeley, Manhattan; Daniel Harkin, Manhattan
Eastern Kansas League -Riley Beach, Blue Valley Northwest; Logan Seger, St. Thomas Aquinas
Flint Hills League -Jordyn Picolet, Council Grove; Kodi Downes, Council Grove
Frontier League -Grace Hanson, Piper; Eli Gilmore, Tonganoxie
Hi Plains League -Chesney Peterson, Stanton County; Kamryn Golub, Stanton County
Mid-East League -Mariah Farmer, Silver Lake; Cameron TenEyck, Silver Lake
Pioneer League -Lillyan Gerow, Burlington; Jack Adams, Iola
Southeast Kansas League -Kinsey Baldwin, Parsons; Cameron Jefferson, Pittsburg
Sunflower League -Hannah Gibson, Shawnee Mission South; Ben Shryock, Lawrence Free State
Tri-Valley League -Campbell O'Dell, Fredonia; Drew Wilhite, Humboldt
Twin Valley League -Chloe Clevenger, Doniphan West; Mitchell Buessing, Axtell