Erin Hammeke of Ellinwood (pictured) will try to keep her class 2A title on Saturday.
Here's what makes sports especially electric to most people. Unpredictability.
Except for one glaring exception, that's what you get when you look at the Kansas Class 2A state cross country championships this year.
The race for individual titles should prove to be riveting, with a pair of duals at the front and potentially a rush of contenders for the rest of the top 10 spots.
The girls' individual title likely comes down to a rematch between Stanton County sophomore Chesney Peterson and Ellinwood senior Erin Hammeke, both of whom were undefeated before they squared off at the regional meet on Saturday.
Like the year before, Peterson defeated Hammeke for the regional title. But last year, Hammeke bounced back and won the Class 2A individual state championship, while Peterson was definitely not herself, finishing 41st in a time that was more than three minutes off her finish at regionals.
Peterson's finish at state last year was the only time in her high school career that she has finished outside of the top two in a race. Hammeke's only losses in the past two seasons have been to Peterson. In what will be her final high school cross country race, the question is whether Hammeke can again rebound from a loss at regionals.
The scramble for the rest of the top 10 includes West Elk junior Josie Ware (whose 19:02 was the top time coming out of regionals this past weekend), Kansas City Christian senior Alysia Wagner, Ellis sophomore Madi Russell, Remington junior Lucy Brown, Bishop-Seabury's Oona Nelson, Stanton County's Suzanne Farnham and Bennington's Peyton Piepho and Ashlyn Harbaugh.
Of those eight, Wagner is one who is especially intriguing, in my view. She was fifth in Class 2A last year, and spent most of this season running against many of the best class 5A and 6A runners in the Kansas City area. In late September, she out-dueled class 6A defending champion Tori Wingrove of Blue Valley to win the Canis Lupis Cup, and in mid-October, she finished second in an all-star field of Class 5A and 6A runners at the Mark Chipman Cat Classic, hosted by two-time class 6A state champion Mill Valley (which is this year's favorite in class 5A).
At corresponding meets this season, Wagner has run nearly a minute faster than she did last year.
Ellis' Russell was the state runner-up last year, finishing just eight seconds behind Hammeke with a time of 19:20. But she has not managed to break 20:00 this season. Still, considering her state-meet experience, don't be surprised if she's again near the top of the field on Saturday.
Farnham placed fourth at state last year as a freshman. Nelson was sixth and Harbaugh was eighth. West Elk's Ware, a junior, is one of the division's newest stars.
Peterson, Farnham and the rest of the Stanton County girls are the favorite for the Class 2A team title, but they're in for a fight. Brown and her Remington mates, and upstart St. Mary's-Pittsburg Colgan - led by Ashley Marietta -- make this a tight battle.
Those three teams seem to match up pretty closely through three runners. The key is likely to fall on how quickly each can get their fourth and fifth runners to the finish line.
Meanwhile in Class 2A boys, we're likely to see a great fight for the individual title, possibly involving as many as five runners.
Remington's Asher Brown has the division's fastest time this season by more than 40 seconds - 15:34.2 to win the Herington Invitational on Sept. 17. But Brown has not run near that time in other meets and so it's hard to label him as a clear favorite for the individual title.
In fact, Trego Community's Wyndom Giefer beat Brown handily to win the class 1A-3A division at the Wamego Invitational earlier this season, one of eight straight wins he's reeled off in a thus-far undefeated season.
Giefer, now a senior, was seventh at state as a sophomore but 43rd last year when he was suffering from a bout of the flu. He's now the slight favorite in a pack that will likely include Brown, Mission Valley's Alfonso Rubio, and Berean Academy's Andrew Harder and Drew Janzen.
Trevor Pentlin of Jefferson County North was the state runner-up a year ago, but like Ellis' Russell on the girls' side, he has yet to run up to that level this year. He did run a career-best time (17:02) at last year's state meet, so he's a gamer that shouldn't be left out of the conversation for a state title.
The outlier in Class 2A is Berean Academy's boys team, which seems about ready to make a shambles of this division. Berean is coming off the class 1A state championship last year, winning by five points over Axtell, and 14 over Beloit-St. Johns and Osborne.
A repeat win - this time in class 2A - will probably come with a bit less drama. Taking a look at MileSplit's Virtual Meet, Berean is a 140-point favorite to win the state title over McLouth. Defending 2A state champ Stanton County - which lost two of its top three from a year ago - is another 20 points back.
In addition to Harder and Janzen, Gavin Tucker has a good shot at a top 10 finish for Berean Academy. The squad could land five runners in the medals.
Class 2A State Meet at a Glance
Saturday, Oct. 31 at Sand Plum Nature Trail, Victoria
Boys Start: 9:30 a.m.
Girls Start: 10:05 a.m.
Defending team champions: Stanton County (boys); Stanton County (girls)
2020 MileSplit Kansas XC State Winner Predictions
Boys individual champion: Wyndom Giefer, Trego Community
Girls individual champion: Chesney Peterson, Stanton County
Boys team champion: Berean Academy
Girls team champion: Stanton County