Smoky Valley Girls, SE of Saline Boys Eye 3A Titles

Belle Peters of Smoky Valley cleared 12-8 to win the 2019 class 3A state title in the pole vault.

You gotta believe that the track and field staff at Pittsburg State University is getting pretty excited to watch Belle Peters of Smoky Valley compete for them next year.

The senior, who has already committed to the Gorillas, is one of the best all-around track and field athletes in Kansas, and certainly the best in the class 3A division. She is the defending state champion (from 2019) in the pole vault, clearing 12-8 as a sophomore.

But entering the 2021 season, Peters also has class 3A's top ranking in the 100 hurdles, and is No. 2 in the 100 meter dash and long jump.

Let's just say that she's a busy gal on track and field meet days.

Peters leads a Smoky Valley girls squad that could be in line for the class 3A state championship by the time May rolls around. In addition to Peters, the squad has a pair of potential state champs in juniors Gracie Lambert (No. 1 ranked in the 800 entering the season) and Abby Rose (No. 3 in the 400).

Seniors Bri Franklin (No. 2 in the discus) and Kerington Haxton (No. 4 in the 300 hurdles) should also boost Smoky Valley's bid for the state title.

Chaparral could make this year's state meet a two-team battle, however. That squad is equally stacked with talent, and covers the sprints, middle distance, hurdles and field events fairly well.

Senior Sophie Francis holds down the sprints for Chaparral, entering the season No. 1 in the 200 meter dash and the 300 meter hurdles. Junior Kieran Burke and senior Chloe Eslinger are ranked No. 3 and No. 4 in the 800 meter run, and junior Gillian Struble is No. 4 in the 100 hurdles.

Chaparral's Matte Swartz seems to be a strong favorite in the class 3A girls high jump, where she has a career best of 5-6. She was the state champion in that event as a freshman, clearing 5-4 at the state meet.

Ellsworth's Shaylee Leiker, a senior, enters the 2021 season with the No. 1 ranking in the 100, and No. 2 in the 200 and 400. She was a three-time medalist in the class 2A meet in 2019.

Two other teams that could challenge for a state trophy: Riley County and Anderson County. Senior Ames Burton of Riley County is a dominant thrower; she holds the No. 1 rankings in the shot put and discus currently, and finished second in both of those events two years ago. Anderson County senior Abby Reid is No. 2 in the 300 hurdles and pole vault.

Other returning state champions from 2019 expected in the class 3A girls division this year are seniors Lara Murdock of Colby (3200 meter run), Renee Nichol of Russell (long jump) and Mariah Monroy of Cherryvale (triple jump). Murdock won the class 3A state cross country title by 35 seconds last fall.

While the battle for the class 3A girls state title could be a close affair, that is not likely to be the case for the boys team title.

Southeast of Saline very well could lap the field as it seemingly enters the 2021 season with strength throughout its lineup.

The Trojans have long been known for distance prowess, and that still holds. They've won the last three class 3A boys' cross country titles and are likely to do quite well on the track.

Their lineup includes 2019 cross country state champion Dylan Sprecker, now a junior, senior Luke Gleason and sophomore Damion Jackson - all of whom won medals at the 2020 cross country championships. With their distance strength, Southeast of Saline is a strong contender in the 4 X 800 relay, as well.

Senior Kanin Elkins enters the season with the No. 1 ranking in the 400 meter dash, and junior Chase Poague is No. 2 in the 110 hurdles and No. 4 in the 300 hurdles. Senior Eddie McVay is No. 3 in the triple jump.

If Southeast of Saline holds anywhere close to expectations at this year's state meet, the squad will be in the ballpark of 60 points, which should be plenty to win a championship.

There is a cluster of teams that could emerge as contenders to Southeast of Saline's apparent dominance of the class 3A boys division - or, at the least, they will be duking it out for spots on the podium.

Those teams include Eureka, Cheney, Thomas More Prep, Frontenac, Osage City, Pleasant Ridge and Rossville.

Each of those teams has their strengths, but some that stand out include:

* Eureka senior Gabe Valentine, who is No. 1 ranked in the 100 meter dash and long jump, and No. 5 in the 200.

* Rossville senior Woodrow Rezac, who placed second in the 100 and fourth in the 200 at the 2019 class 2A championships. He's the top-rated 200 meter runner in class 3A entering this season.

* Frontenac senior Easton King, who is No. 1 in the 300 hurdles, and senior teammate Ty Gates, who is No. 2 in the high jump.

* Pleasant Ridge senior Keaton Comer, who enters the season ranked No. 1i n the high jump and No. 2 in the javelin.

* Thomas More Prep senior Lucas Lang and junior Jace Wentling, who hold down the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the triple jump.

* Osage City senior Shane Orender is No. 2 in the 800 and senior teammate Dane Whalen is No. 2 in the shot put.

The class 3A distance events also have potential to be crowd-pleasers at this year's state meet. The field is headed by Girard senior Cormick Logue, the 2019 class 4A cross country champion and 2020 class 3A cross country champion. Logue is the prohibitive favorite in the 1600 and 3200 meter runs entering the spring season.

But he'll be challenged by some familiar foes, including an outstanding freshman from Council Grove, Lakoddah Downs - who was second to Logue at the cross country championships.

Other top distance runners expected in class 3A this season include Smoky Valley's Ryan Heline (third at the state cross country meet), Justin Hodge of Hiawatha and the stable of Southeast of Saline runners.