Preview & Predictions: Kansas 4A Cross Country State Meet

Taylor Briggs could become just the sixth Kansas runner ever to win four cross country state titles.

It would be entirely appropriate to point out Buhler's quest to repeat their 2019 sweep of the boys' and girls' team titles when talking about Saturday's Kansas Class 4A state cross country championships at the Wamego Country Club.

Or how about a spine-chilling, Halloween rematch between Buhler's Tanner Lindahl and Hayden's Tanner Newkirk for the boys' individual crown? Those two have run the third and fifth fastest times, respectively, in Kansas this season.

But this is 2020, and aside from the many things we might want to forget about this year, here's one that we definitely want to remember.

Taylor Briggs.

As in, the senior from Chapman who is on the cusp of becoming just the sixth Kansas athlete ever to win four state cross country titles.

Heading into Saturday's state championship race, Briggs has piled up a record of 27-2 in Kansas high school cross country meets, with her only two blemishes coming at the seven-state Rim Rock Classic in 2018 and 2019.

She's also won 28 of 34 races on the track, and is a perfect 7-for-7 in Kansas high school state meet races - three in cross country, two in the 1600 meter run, and two in the 3200. COVID-19 likely robbed her of a three-peat on the track last spring.

There seems to be no drama regarding if Briggs will win for the fourth time on Saturday. The drama seems to be more about how quickly she will do it.

In the second week of the season, Briggs rolled to a win at the Wamego Invitational in a career-best 18:10.14 - less than two seconds off the course record of 18:08.87 that Girard's Cailie Logue ran in 2015 to win the third of what would eventually become four class 4A state titles - the first Kansas runner in class 4A to accomplish the feat.

Logue's course record came on Halloween in 2015, which coincidentally, is the same day as this year's state meet. Briggs is likely to celebrate the spooky holiday, too, but the bigger question is whether she can match Logue's record-breaking run of five years ago.

Since winning at Wamego earlier this year, Briggs has lowered her career-best to 18:07.1 in winning the Southeast of Saline Invitational when she matched up against class 3A defending state champ Jentrie Alderson of Southeast of Saline and Class 1A state champ Jaycee Vath of Lincoln, who is aiming for her third state title this week.

That win was telling of Briggs. While she's pretty good at running fast in just about any conditions and against any competition, she has displayed the ability to be extra special against the best competition and when the stakes are highest.

Her best time this season is 1:17 faster than the next fastest class 4A girl - Leah Bentley of Buhler, who won the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail Div. 3 league championship two weekends ago with a time of 19:24.4.

Bentley likely heads up the chase pack in class 4A girls. Kayli Myers of Winfield (19:43.2 season-best), Riley Smith of Baldwin (19:51.7) and Hayley Trotter of Clearwater (19:54.2) has the inside track on the top five Saturday. Myers finished second behind Bentley at the AVCTL League meet, while Trotter was the AVCTL Div. 4 champ on the same course.

Baldwin's Smith is in line for a pretty nice prize, too. Her team is a heavy favorite to take away the 4A girls title from Buhler. According to MileSplit's Virtual Meet rankings, Baldwin could win by as much as 40 points. Baldwin has won 11 state titles since 2002, the most recent coming in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before finishing as runner-up last year.

In addition to Smith, Baldwin has an all-star cast that includes senior Ambrynn Stewart and juniors Diana Messick, Jana Landreth and Abigail Patterson. Freshman Bailey Smith currently has Baldwin's fifth-best time this season, 20:51.6, which lands her at No. 16 in the division heading into state.

After Bentley, Buhler's key returners include Lindsay Warner and Amaleigh Mattison, while freshman Krysten Hamby is new to the mix.

Winfield and Eudora are the two teams most likely to fight it out for the third trophy.

Buhler's boys enter as the favorite to repeat as champs, but they're going to get a tussle from a strong Winfield squad.

Winfield can't match the top-end strength that Lindahl gives Buhler, but they seem to be a better pack team, having managed just under 1:30 average for its top five runners this season.

Winfield has three potential top 10 finishers in seniors Craig Labrue and Camilo Tarin, and sophomore Corban Priest.

Lindahl enters with the No. 1 time in class 4A this season (15:26.6), but Buhler's fate will rely on who's coming behind him. Junior Hayden Keller and freshman Kaden Lohrentz are top 20 contenders in the boys 4A meet.

Winfield may actually be able to out-run Buhler through three runners, so the real key to the 4A boys team title is what happens with each team's fourth and fifth finishers. Heading into Saturday, Buhler has done that a little better to this point in the season.

Bishop Miege and Hayden are also looking to get on the state podium. One or both have an outside shot at catching Buhler and Winfield for the top spot.

While the class 4A boys team title will take a while to sort itself out, the run for the individual championship will likely be very clear from the starting gun.

Hayden's Newkirk is the top returner from last year's state meet, finishing second to Girard's Cormick Logue - whose school moved to class 3A this season where he is the odds-on favorite to repeat as a Kansas state champion. Hayden competes in the Centennial League, where Newkirk has mostly run against class 5A and Class 6A schools. He has victories this season over runners who are the pre-meet favorites to win in class 6A (Daniel Harkin of Manhattan, who was the 2019 Gatorade Runner of the Year), 5A (Tommy Hazen and Logan Seger of St. Thomas Aquinas) and 3A (Logue).

Lindahl, the class 4A state champ in 2018 as a freshman, was part of a three-man battle at last year's 4A state meet in which he, Newkirk and Logue each led at one point in the race. Lindahl eventually finished third, but the back-and-forth drama was possibly the most memorable individual race among all Kansas state meets a year ago. Lindahl won the Sterling Invitational three weeks ago in 15:26.6, the third-fastest time in Kansas this season.

That's the setup for Newkirk and Lindahl as they get back together again this year. This time, the winner is likely to also take home the class 4A individual state championship.

Bishop Miege freshman Micah Blomker also has run sub-16:00 this season, clocking 15:57.9 for second place at the Eastern Kansas League championship two weekends ago. It was his career-best and was even more impressive because he out-ran most of a field that included Class 5A powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, and class 5A's No. 2 ranked St. James Academy.

Other top contenders among class 4A boys include Augusta junior Sawyer Schmidt, Iola senior Jack Adams, and Circle junior Ian Hunter.

RELATED: 4A Girls Regional meet results combined | 4A Boys Regional meet results combined

Class 4A State Meet at a Glance

Saturday, Oct. 31 at Wamego Country Club


Boys Start: 9:30 a.m.

Girls Start: 10:05 a.m.

Defending team champions: Buhler (girls), Buhler (boys)

2020 MileSplit Kansas State Meet Predictions

Boys individual champion: Tanner Newkirk, Hayden

Girls individual champion: Taylor Briggs, Chapman

Boys team champion: Buhler

Girls team champion: Baldwin

1A | 2A | 3A 4A 5A