6A Redux: Manhattan Again Favored for State Title

There's not a whole lot that looks familiar when one takes a look at the class 6A boys division of Kansas Track and Field. That's what losing two graduating classes - due to the COVID-19 pandemic - can do.

Of the 144 medals awarded in the class 6A boys state meet in 2019, there are only 16 returners - a measly 11% of the medal-winning performances from that year.

Yet, there is one very recognizable figure in this division: Manhattan.

Since 2009, Manhattan has won two state titles, finished as the runner-up five times and third place twice. They have been a model of consistency in the class 6A ranks.

The Indians would have been overwhelming favorites to win the class 6A state title a year ago, with the return of three defending state champions and a roster loaded with state experience. Senior Sam Hankins entered last year as the No. 1 ranked javelin thrower in the United States, and was a sure bet to win his fourth consecutive Kansas state title in that event.

Hankins and fellow senior James Higgs - who had five, top five finishes in the shot put and discus the previous three years - are now competing at the NCAA Division I level, but Manhattan's program seems to keep rolling along.

Senior Daniel Harkin is a two-time state cross country champion, and was the 3200 meter state champion as a sophomore in 2019. He'll be a strong favorite to win the 1600 and 3200 at this year's state meet.

Darius O Connell, also a senior, won the shot put state title as a sophomore and is again ranked No. 1 in that event.

They are not alone.

Manhattan's Jaden Magana is ranked No. 1 in the discus, while Damien Ilalio is No. 3 in the shot put and No. 5 in the discus. Senior Jason Moran is No. 3 in the triple jump and javelin.

And Manhattan was second in the state cross country championships, indicating they likely have some depth for the distance races and the 4 X 800 relay. All told Manhattan could challenge the 70 point mark, which is a big score in class 6A.

There are no cake walks at the state meet, however, and a few teams appear at this point to be strong challengers to Manhattan.

Lawrence Free State won the state cross country title last fall, so they cover the middle distance and distance events well. Seniors Ethan Sharp, Christopher Stone and Brock Cordova and juniors Ben Shryock and Jack Keathley-Helms likely will run the longer events. Sprinter Tyler Bowden is No. 1 in the 200 and No. 4 in the 100.

Blue Valley appears to be especially strong in the field events. Seniors Dylan Arnold and Jason Berg are No. 1 and No. 4, respectively in the pole vault, and senior Ben McAlister is No. 2 and No. 3 in the shot put and discus.

Gardner-Edgerton has a distance star in senior Quenton Walion (runner-up at the state cross country meet last fall, and No. 3 in the 1600 and 3200 this spring), as well as the No. 1 rated javelin thrower in senior Caleb Calvin. Seniors Storm Frazier and Ivan Jalabomy are state title contenders in the pole vault and high jump.

One newcomer to class 6A this season is Wichita Heights' Elijah Mosley, the 2019 state champion in the 400 meter run (48.29) in class 5A. He also placed third in the 800 meters, and ran 48.8 on the anchor of the 4 X 400 meter relay to rally his team to victory.

Perhaps Moseley's most impressive race in 2019, however, came in the finals of the 4 X 800 relay. He took the baton on the last leg with his team in 13th place. By the time he crossed the finish two laps later, he had moved his squad to a medal-winning seventh place. His split was 1:54.

Other top individuals in the class 6A boys division include 2019 state runner-ups Andrew Orr of Blue Valley North (high jump) and Blue Valley's Arnold in the pole vault. Joel Goering of Washburn Rural was third in the pole vault.

Manhattan's Harkin and O'Connell are the only two returning state champs in class 6A boys.

The chase for the class 6A girls state track and field title is a toss-up at this point with at least four teams seemingly separating themselves from the field.

Two-time defending state champion Lawrence may not be as dominating as their 22-point victory in 2019, but they are still pretty good. Senior sprinter Bella Kirkwood has a great shot at sweeping the 100 and 200 meter titles, and is No. 1 entering the season in the long jump.

Seniors Amaya Harris is No. 1 in the javelin and Caroline Dunlap is No. 2 in the pole vault.

Gardner-Edgerton, though, has perhaps the most electric performer in the class 6A girls division. Senior Kendra Wait is the defending state champion in the 100 meter dash and shot put. She was also second in the pole vault and fourth in the 200 in 2019. She is ranked No. 1 in all four events starting the 2021 season.

Wait's teammate, senior Kylie Moorehouse, is ranked No. 2 in the 400 and No. 5 in the 200.

Blue Valley West pairs strength in the distance and field events. Katherine Soule is No. 1 in the 3200 and Olivia Bakker is No. 2 in the 800. Sheridan Bredehoeft is No. 1 in the discus and No. 3 in the shot put; and Gracie Allen is No. 2 in the long jump.

Wichita East could make a go for the state title in another way. That squad may not have the individual state champions, but they would seem to be able to score in more than half of the events at the state meet. Those third, fourth, fifth and sixth places add up. The only Wichita East athlete ranked higher than No. 4 is senior Kennadie Jinkins, who is No. 2 in the 100 hurdles (she also sits at No. 4 in the 300 hurdles).

Unlike the class 6A boys division, the field expected for the 2021 girls state championships could include as many as 32 returning medalists. Some of the more notable include senior Aneesa Abdul-hameed of Derby (runner-up in the 400) and senior Kaiya McKie of Olathe North (third in the 110 hurdles).

Other than those on the preseason contenders for state team titles, there were no other class 6A girls who placed higher than fourth in 2019 that are returning this season. Wait is the only state track and field champion in this year's field.

There are, however, three cross country state champions expected to compete this spring, including Olathe North freshman Anjali Hocker Singh (2020), Blue Valley junior Tori Wingrove (2019) and Blue Valley Northwest senior Riley Beach (2018).