While we were all away dealing with a global pandemic, the class 5A division of Kansas track and field was getting injected with a whole bunch of fast.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association parses its classifications each fall to pit 36 schools against one another in the 6A, 5A and 4A classifications. Since the 2019 state meet, the shift included Leavenworth moving from 6A to 5A, and Kansas City Piper moving from 4A to 5A.
Leavenworth, with an enrollment of 1,263, is just under 100 students from being a 6A school while Piper, at 733, was just 27 students from remaining in class 4A.
Those changes caused quite a stir in the track and field world because they brought together two of the state's strongest girls' sprint programs into the same division.
Blake, then a freshman, had an ominous start to her state meet career: in the prelims of the 100-meter dash, she false started and was disqualified.
But she bounced back...oh, did she ever bounce back. First, she wowed the crowd by winning the 400 meter dash in a time of 56.92, then later clocked 25.00 for second place in the 200 meters - missing the state title by two one-hundredths of a second.
Then, in the finals of the 4 X 400 meter relay, Blake received the baton on the anchor leg with her team in third place. She clocked 55.19 to rally Leavenworth to the state championship in that event and second place in the class 6A team standings.
Ramos, a sophomore that year, was no bit player in the dramatic afternoon. She placed third in the 200 and 400, fifth in the 100 and ran a leg on the winning 4 X 400 squad.
Heading into the 2021 season, Blake is ranked No. 1 in the class 5A 100, 200 and 400, while Ramos is No. 2 in all three events. Track fans know well what a 1-2 finish at state means: 18 big points. Multiply that by three and the two standouts could account for 54 points in just three events...and that's not even counting a relay.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's not forget about Piper, which had a young team of its own in the 2019 class 4A state track and field championships.
Sprint standouts Evelyn Vasquez and Kinley Brown - now both seniors - and junior Saniya Simmons will hold down the 100, 200, 400 and relays. Vasquez was third in the 100 and 200 two years ago, while Brown was fourth in the 200 and third in the 400.
Simmons didn't medal in the 100 two years ago, but she was on the class 4A state-winning 4 X 100 relay squad, and she was the state champion in the long jump.
While Leavenworth's Blake and Ramos hold down the top two spots in the 100, 200 and 400 rankings, the Piper crew holds down two of the other three spots in the 100 and 200 (Piper's Brown is No. 3 in the 400). Izzy Williams of Spring Hill is the only other class 5A sprinter to break up the Leavenworth-Piper party in the two shorter sprints.
Keep an eye out also for Zy'quiria Bronson, a sophomore who runs for the same club in the offseason as Blake and Ramos. Bronson, who will suit up for Lansing this spring, had middle school PRs in the 100, 200 and 400 that would have earned class 5A state medals in 2019.
Piper probably will not have the depth to challenge Leavenworth for the class 5A team title, but four perennial powers will, including Mill Valley, Blue Valley Southwest, Bishop Carroll and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Mill Valley senior Molly Ricker and junior Katie Schwartzkopf are likely to score big points in the middle distance and distance races. Schwartzkopf was the class 6A state champion in cross country in 2018, and a runner-up in 2019 (6A) and 2020 (5A). Bishop Carroll's Hope Jackson is a two-time state cross country champion in class 5A, and the No. 1 ranked runner in the 1600 and 3200 meter runs.
Blue Valley Southwest also has strength in the middle distance and distance events with senior Gigi Loffredo, as well as senior Lauren Heck (No. 1 in the 100 hurdles and No. 2 in the 300 hurdles and No. 4 in the javelin). Aquinas, normally a force in the distance races, may be relying more heavily on the field events this spring; senior Paris Bond has a No. 1, 2 and 3 ranking in the high jump, triple jump and pole vault, and senior Adrienne Pascuzzi is No. 2 in the javelin.
An interesting dual to look for includes Blue Valley Southwest's Heck and Shawnee Heights senior Shelby Butterfield in the hurdle events. Butterfield is No. 2 in the 100 hurdles (behind Heck) and No. 1 in the 300 hurdles. Butterfield also holds the No. 1 spot in the long jump.
There are no returning class 5A track and field state champions in this year's girls field.
On the boys' side, not only are there no returning state champs, but there are only 12 medalists coming back from the 2019 meet. Wichita Heights Elijah Moseley was a star in class 5A two years ago - winning two state titles and four medals - but his school has since moved to class 6A.
The returners represent just 8% of all the medals won by class 5A boys in 2019. There are no returning medalists in the hurdle events, just one in the middle distance and distance events, and three each in the sprints and jumps.
Not surprisingly, the team race quite likely could be decided by a cluster of schools, all aiming to find the next breakout star on the track or in the field.
Hays has a pretty good start on that quest, with standout senior thrower Trey Adams (No. 1 in the discus and No. 2 in the shot put), senior pole vaulter Tucker Veach (No. 2) and senior hurdler Greg Robinson (No. 2 in the 110 hurdles and No. 3 in the 300 hurdles). Junior Gavin Meyers is the top returner in the class 5A javelin, placing third in 2019.
Other teams that likely will challenge for the class 5A boys team title include:
* Kapaun Mt. Carmel, which expects back junior Michael McGuire (No. 1 in the high jump) and distance ace Erik Enriquez, who won the class 5A cross country state title last fall (interestingly, Enriquez has never qualified for the state track and field meet in his high school career).
* St. Thomas Aquinas, the distance powerhouse which has senior Tommy Hazen and junior Logan Seger, who were third and fourth in the cross country championships last fall.If you're looking for an individual star, you might put your money on Lansing senior Malik Benson. He's the top class 5A returner in the 100 (fifth in 2019) and long jump (third), and is No. 1 in both of those events right now.