Leave it to Bishop Carroll's Hope Jackson to light up the Kansas cross country scene on an otherwise ho-hum weekend of state-qualifying, regional meets from border to border.
Jackson won the class 5A Bishop Carroll regional with a career-best time of 17:58 that not only launched her to the top time in Kansas this season, it also landed her the No. 154 spot in the United States this season.
Jackson, a junior who will now defend the class 5A title she won a year ago, was mostly quiet during the first month of the season, winning three races in almost business-like fashion. But on the first weekend of October, she started warming up, clocking 18:30 to win against a very strong field at the Maple Leaf Classic in Baldwin.
That was kids play compared to what she did Saturday. It's the first time that a Kansas girl has run sub-18:00 inside the state's borders since Washburn Rural's Jaybee Shufelberger clocked 17:59.70 to win the Rim Rock Classic in 2018.
It's also the fastest winning time at regionals since Oct. 22, 2016 when Girard's Cailie Logue clocked 17:51 at a regional meet in
Burlington; and Lawrence Free State's Emily Venters won the class 6A Manhattan regional in 17:56.4.
Jackson won by nearly a minute over Kapaun-Mt. Carmel's
Kelsey Bruening (18:56) and Andover's Elizabeth Vetter (19:00.0). Her time is the 26th fastest time by a Kansas girl inside our outside of the state in the past 10 years (Logue has 11 of the 26 best times during that time span).
Kapaun-Mt. Carmel's Erik Enriquez lit up the boys' race, too, clocking a career-best 15:18 to win by 25 seconds over Bishop Carroll's Carson McEachern (15:43). Andover Central's Brett Schoenhoffer was third (15:50) and Emporia's Treyson True - the class 5A state runner-up last year - was fourth (15:54).
Enriquez' time is the second best by a Kansas runner this season. Girard's Cormick Logue (last year's state champ in class 4A who will be running in class 3A this year) clocked 15:17 four weeks ago. Enriquez is now at No. 86 in the U.S. rankings.
It's always exciting when you're running for spots in the state meet, but there was very little drama that took place at the 54 regional championships on Saturday.
Consider this: I took a look at the Top 20 rankings for Kansas athletes in every classification - so, counting boys and girls, that's 240 athletes who are ranked in the top 20 at their respective level.
Saturday at regionals, 236 of the 240 runners who are listed
in Kansas MileSplit's Top 20, qualified to run in the state meet next Saturday. None of those four who missed out on state were inside the Top 10 rankings.
It did get a little more intense in the fight for team spots into state.
In fact, two boys teams ranked in the top five among Kansas' class 5A schools won't be at state. Unfortunately - for them - they landed in the proverbial murderer's row of regional meets: The Kansas City-Turner Regional.
Six-time defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas headlined that regional, and they held serve, winning by 20 points over the state's No. 2 ranked St. James Academy team. Mill Valley - ranked No. 3 in class 5A - was third.
Here's where it got dicey. DeSoto was in a statistical tie with Mill Valley for the No. 3 ranking, but on Saturday, they came up a point short of making it to state. Mill Valley scord 76 while DeSoto had 77. Almost forgotten in the thrilling battle was class 5A's fifth-ranked Blue Valley Southwest - which finished fifth on Saturday.
It was nearly the same scenario in class 6A where the top three ranked boys teams - Lawrence Free State, Gardner-Edgerton and Olathe South - finished that way in the Olathe North Regional. Left out was the home team, Olathe North, which was ranked No. 5 in class 6A for much of the season.
Meade's boys, ranked No. 2 in class 1A, won a pre-state showdown with No. 1 ranked Lacrosse. Freshman sensations Trent Roberts and Logan Keith finished fourth and fifth to lead their team to 29 points and a comfortable win over Lacrosse, which scored 46.
In what may also be a state meet preview, class 3A's top-ranked Scott Community girls beat Cimarron at the Lakin regional. And in class 6A, Olathe West's girls won a No. 1 vs. 2 showdown with Olathe North.
Baldwin's girls, top-ranked in class 4A and seeking the school's fourth state title in the past six years, looked dominating. They won by 31 points over a team they know well, Eudora, which placed third at state last year - just two points behind Baldwin.
Perhaps the biggest surprise win by a team on Saturday was
Blue Valley Southwest's victory in the Kansas City-Turner Regional. The squad
scored 58 points for a two-point victory over two-time defending class 6A state
champion Mill Valley, now running in class 5A.
Blue Valley Southwest was ranked No. 5 going into the
matchup. On the good side for Mill Valley, though, is that junior Katie
Schwartzkopf seems to be rounding into fine form...again! Typically a slow
starter each season, she was the class 6A state champion and runner-up in 2018 and
2019, respectively. On Saturday, she was the regional champion, and now has to be considered among the top contenders for the class 5A girls title.
Some other top performances at regionals include:
* Chapman's Taylor Briggs set up her shot to become a four-time state champion when she cruised to the win at the Class 4A Buhler regional. Briggs, a senior, has never lost a state meet race in either cross country or track and field. She's an overwhelming favorite to win for the fourth time on the cross country course, which would make her just the sixth Kansas girl ever to accomplish that feat.
* Another former state champion, Riley Beach of Blue Valley Northwest, won the class 6A Shawnee Mission South regional with another fast time, 18:15.9. She's unbeaten this season, and has not run slower than 19:00; her season best is 18:03. Beach won the 6A title as a freshman, and now as a senior, looks like she has a good shot to put a nice bookend on her career.
* Jentrie Alderson of Southeast of Saline, the class 3A defending champion, has fought sickness nearly the entire season, but she won a regional on her home course Saturday. She's among a small group of girls who could win the 3A title next week at the Wamego Country Club.
* Quenton Walion of Gardner-Edgerton has emerged as a class 6A contender for the state title. He beat a strong field at the Olathe North regional, clocking 15:41.1 - the second best time among Kansas boys this weekend. Ben Shryock of Lawrence Free State was second in 15:45.8, leading his top-ranked class 6A team to the regional title.
* We haven't heard or seen much of Collin Oswalt of
Hutchinson-Central Christian this season, but let it be known: he's ba-a-a-ck.
And he's running really well. Oswalt won the class 1A Buhler regional on
Saturday in 15:58, setting up a great matchup with Beloit's Caleb Eilert, the
2019 1A state champ who won the Riley County regional on Saturday.
And, wow, the freshman are looking great this year. At the class 6A girls Olathe North regional, three of the top four finishers were freshmen, including champion Anjali Hocker Singh of Olathe North (18:16), second-place Kate Miller of Olathe West (18:26) and fourth-place Bree Newport of Olathe West (18:37). Only Kaylee Tobaben of Olathe North, a junior who placed third in 18:27, broke up the freshman sweep.
Another freshman, Kodi Downes of Council Grove, already is among the best in class 3A boys, taking Smoky Valley senior Ryan Heline to the wire at the Southeast of Saline regional. Heline, likely a top 3 finisher at this year's state meet, won in 16:12.57 with Downes nipping at his heels - 16:12.93.
Nineteen Kansas girls ran 19:00 or faster this week, and 71 were under 20:00. For the boys, 10 dipped under 16:00; 52 were better than 16:30; and 101 ran 17:00 or faster.
Check out all the results of this weekend's meets on the 2020 KS MileSplit Regional Meet Results Hub.