By and large, the virtual meets app on Kansas MileSplit is a pretty good predictor of the best teams and individuals in the state.
It's also a great way to figure out how your team stacks up against others, whether that be a regular-season home meet, or one of the higher-stakes post-season battles.
For this week's Class 5A boys state championships...well, I'm not so sure.
Earlier this week, I compared just the 12 scoring teams that will compete Saturday at the Four Mile Creek Resort near Augusta. What it shows is this:
In other words, the six-time defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas boys' team will have a tussle on their hands. In these parts, that's big news, because for more than a decade, St. Thomas Aquinas' boys have been the cross country heavyweight in Kansas.
But don't believe everything you read.
Those virtual meet rankings can be skewed a bit in cross country because teams are not typically running on level ground - literally. Some run hilly courses, some run-flat courses. And even though it's cross country, some courses aren't even run primarily on grass, favoring trails and paved paths and track and field stadium finishes.
There's nothing wrong with any of that, but it does create more of a challenge when predicting how it will all turn out when those teams get together on the same day, same course and same conditions.
The best way to forecast the class 5A boys state championship this week is actually to look backward - just a few days, actually, to the Kansas City-Turner regional meet. The top 5 ranked teams in Kansas were in that race, and St. Thomas Aquinas proved to be the best by far, scoring 30 points to second-place St. James' 52. Mill Valley placed third with 76, just a point ahead of DeSoto for the final spot into the state meet.
Until Saturday's race is run, that's the best way to look at this division. St. Thomas is still a heavy favorite for the 5A boys team title, while its closest pursuers are St. James and Mill Valley - both very good and very capable teams, for sure.
A couple dark horses in the team chase: How about Bishop Carroll and Maize, teams that won their respective regional meets and because of this year's change of venue for the state meet, will be running in their backyard - and sleeping in their own beds the night before. Nobody can say for sure if that makes any difference, but it sure can't hurt those teams hoping to snag a spot on the podium.
Among individuals, St. Thomas Aquinas' Logan Seger, Tommy Hazen and Ashton Higgerson look like top five finishers. They're the power behind the engine this year, though the rest of the Saints' roster can run sub-17:00 and even contend for state medals.
They might all be chasing Erik Enriquez of Kapaun-Mt. Carmel, who clocked 15:18 to win the Bishop Carroll regional last weekend. Enriquez, a senior, is unbeaten this season, and unlike many others, he did have an outdoor track season, running a track series in the Wichita area. His times in the spring were solid: 4:25 for 1600 meters and 9:33 for 3200 meters.
Those are all times that say he's a legitimate contender for the state cross country title.
Other boys who could be in the mix for the individual title or a top 10 finish include Treyson True of Emporia (the state runner-up last year); Carson McEachern of Bishop Carroll; Carson Sturdy of DeSoto; Brett Schoenhoffer of Andover Central; Kaiden Esfeld of Great Bend; Lenny Njoroge of Topeka West; and Aj Vega of Mill Valley.
In the class 5A girls race, a half dozen teams seem to be in strong contention for the three podium spots. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that any of those teams could win the state title, or finish as low as sixth place. It's that tight going into this meet.
Mill Valley is the two-time state champion in Class 6A; in essence, they're not defending anything as they move down a division this season. But they've still got a target on their back as they shoot for a third straight state title.
They're led by juniors Katie Schwartzkopf and Bridget Roy, who don't know anything but winning at the state meet. Roy has been the team's No. 1 runner for most of the season, but Schwartzkopf is an interesting study.
As a freshman, Schwartzkopf was the surprise winner in Class 6A girls, running pretty much anonymously until the state meet when she beat pre-race favorite Jaybee Shufelberger of Washburn Rural, who later qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals and was named the 2018 Kansas Gatorade Runner of the Year.
Then, last year, she followed the same script: Just kind of hanging around for most of the season before really turning on the after-burners to finish as state runner-up.
That's what we've seen from Schwartzkopf this season, as well. Most of the time, she's been the team's No. 2 runner, grabbing a fifth place here, a sixth-place there - even a 10th place finish at the KC Cross Country Classic and seventh place at the Sunflower League.
But then the stakes started getting higher and Schwartzkopf hit another gear. She won last week's regional meet by nearly a minute.
If she continues on the path she's blazed the past couple of years, she could give Bishop Carroll's Hope Jackson a good run for the individual state title. Jackson, also a junior, is the defending state champion in Class 5A and the 2019 Kansas Gatorade Girls Runner of the Year.
Last year, Jackson clocked 18:17.9 to win her first state title on the hilly Rim Rock Farm course. Last week at regionals, she lowered her career-best to 17:58 in winning the Bishop Carroll regional. It was the first time in two years that a Kansas girl had run under 18:00 in an in-state meet, and the fastest time at a Kansas regional meet since Girard's Cailie Logue and Lawrence Free State's Emily Venters broke 18:00 in 2015.
Interestingly, the individual battles in the class 5A girls race may also play largely in the team standings. Mill Valley enters as a slight favorite for the team title, but Bishop Carroll is among four teams - Kapaun Mt. Carmel, Maize South, and Blue Valley Southwest are the others - that can catch them. Blue Valley Southwest, in fact, beat Mill Valley by two points at last weekend's regional meet.
Maize South's Alexa Rios enters with the division's third-best time this season (18:47.1) and Kapaun's Kelsey Bruening has the fifth-best (18:56.0). Gigi Loffredo, the class 5A state runner-up in 2018, leads Blue Valley Southwest. Loffredo could be one who benefits from the flatter Four Mile Creek Course; she's a 2:23 half-miler and 1:02 quarter-miler on the track.
Other individuals to watch on Saturday include Piper sophomore Grace Hanson, Andover junior Elizabeth Vetter, Seaman sophomore Bethany Druse, Bishop Carroll sophomore Landon Forbes and Kapaun sophomore Addie Curtis.
Class 5A State Meet at a Glance
Saturday, Oct. 31 at Four Mile Creek Resort, Augusta
Boys Start: 9:30 a.m.
Girls Start: 10:05 a.m.
Defending team champions: St. James Academy (girls); St. Thomas Aquinas (boys)
2020 MileSplit Kansas XC State Meet Predictions
Boys individual champion: Erik Enriquez, Kapaun-Mt. Carmel
Girls individual champion: Hope Jackson, Bishop Carroll
Boys team champion: St. Thomas Aquinas
Girls team champion: Mill Valley