Maize South edges Carroll for Girls 5A Title

Kapaun-Mt. Carmel senior Erik Enriquez holds his hands high in joy upon winning the Kansas Class 5A boys state title on Saturday. (Kansas MileSplit photo by Pat Melgares)

Don't ever - ever! - let anybody tell you that cross country is not a sport of inches.

Because it was exactly that -- the lean of a 17-year-old girl's torso -- making all the difference for Maize South Saturday at the Class 5A State Cross Country championships at Four Mile Creek Resort near Augusta. 

Junior Britton Kelly edged Blue Valley Southwest's Gigi Loffredo by two-tenths of a second for 11th place, an important one-point difference that provided the winning margin for Maize South over Bishop Carroll. Less than half a minute later, freshman Kennedy Mitchell finished 23rd in 20:31.2, just six-tenths of a second ahead of St. Thomas Aquinas' Ellie Ward, to cap Maize South's scoring five.

With that, the Mavericks won the team title with 58 points, while Bishop Carroll had 59. Blue Valley Southwest was a distant third with 105 points.

It was clear pretty early in Saturday's race that Maize South and Bishop Carroll were the teams to beat. The front of the pack was dotted with runners from both schools; each had their five scorers among the top 25 within the first half mile of the race.

Bishop Carroll's Hope Jackson was the most obvious. The junior, who won the class 5A state title a year ago, sprinted out to a 20 meter lead before the course even made its first right-hand turn - about ½ mile into the 5000 meter course.

Jackson went on to win the individual title in 18:58.0, a six-second winner over Mill Valley's Katie Schwartzkopf.

But Maize South was efficiently putting together its top five runners. Senior Alexa Rios was among a chase pack of five behind Jackson, while sophomore Bowi Sargent and Britton lurked in the top 10.

Rios went on to finish fifth in 19:19.4, while Sargent nabbed 10th (19:51.6) and Britton that precious 11th place (19:53.6). Maize South then closed out its scoring just outside the medalists: Junior Sage Pauly was 21st (20:18.2) and Mitchell added her 23rd place finish.

Bishop Carroll sophomore Landon Forbes ran a strong race, as well. She finished third (19:13.7) to give Carroll a huge early advantage in the team race. The rest of Carroll's crew ran well - senior Cameron Pascal was 17th (20:13.7), freshman Sofia Wendell 22nd (20:30.2), and junior Ava Dugan 27th (20:38.9) - but it was just a little too little to get past Maize South.

There was a lot less drama for the class 5A boys state championship. St. Thomas Aquinas rolled to its seventh consecutive title with a dominating, 32-point performance. St. James Academy was the runner-up with 77 and Mill Valley third at 84 -- a repeat of the three-teams' finish at regionals one week ago.

Senior Tommy Hazen placed third (15:57.6), junior Logan Seger was fourth (16:05.6) and junior Ashton Higgerson was seventh (16:27.0) to pace St. Thomas Aquinas. Senior Aidan Grantham (14th, 16:38.2) and junior Darren Mallot (20th, 16:49.3) also were medalists for the Saints.

But in the individual race, they were all chasing Kapaun-Mt. Carmel senior Erik Enriquez, a notorious front-runner who bucked the wind - estimated at 16 mph with occasional gusts - for nearly the entire race. Enriquez fought off a mid-race charge from Hazen, Seger, Bishop Carroll's Carson McEachern and DeSoto's Carson Sturdy to win his first Kansas state title in 15:43.9.

"It feels great; so amazing," Enriquez said. "My coaches and my whole team came out here to support me. It's just really great."

It took about two miles for Enriquez to make a deciding move.

"The key was about 3K, you turn back into the wind and I was this close to letting off, but I knew that I could break those guys if I made that push, and that's when I took it," Enriquez said.

McEachern fought off the gutsy St. Thomas Aquinas duo to place second in 15:51.8, while Sturdy rounded out the top five in 16:17.2.

Bishop Carroll's Jackson also ran from the front in the girl's race, seemingly comfortable by the time she and the chase pack hit the one mile mark. But the quick early pace seemed to take its toll on Jackson as the pack - headed by Mill Valley's Schwartzkopf - began closing the gap in the second mile.

It was a study in contrasting styles: Jackson's shorter, quicker steps compared with Schwartzkopf's long, lanky strides. It had to make Bishop Carroll fans nervous because Schwartzkopf is a veteran of the state meet; she was the class 6A state champion in 2018 and the class 6A runner-up last year. With a half mile to go, Schwartzkopf had closed to within five seconds of the Bishop Carroll junior.

Jackson, though, said she wasn't going to give up easily.

"I just tried to give it all I had, and hold it," Jackson said. "I was just telling myself that after this is all done, do you really want to give up being the state champion at the very end of the race. I said, 'no I don't,' so I just kept going."

Schwartzkopf finished in 19:04.1, followed by Forbes (19:13.7), Andover junior Elizabeth Vetter (19:17.6) and Maize South's Rios (19:19.4).