6A is always a crowded affair
(Photo by Lathe Cobb)
As the state's largest-school division, 6A has some pressure to entertain. Typically the pack is tight and team scoring is decided by who can bunch their runners together the most. That certainly appears to be the case again this year, as the top teams all have pack times under 70 seconds. That is, there is only 70 seconds separating their first and fifth runners.
On the girls side, we actually have two such teams, naturally going 1 and 2 in the computer rankings. Olathe West, the defending champs, packed well last year and bring everyone back. They're a national power and (barring disaster) will win 6A this year by a landslide. The Owls are probably more focused on NXR and bettering their #20 national ranking. Their returners average 18:27, and all of their scoring runners may find themselves in the top-10 at state.
So, with the #1 spot locked up, what's the rest of the state up to? Well, Manhattan is that other team with a tight pack (64 seconds, to be exact). They'll continue a heated back-and-forth rivalry with Centennial League neighbors Washburn Rural. These two are dead-even in terms of scoring, with Manhattan taking the attack-pack approach, and Washburn a little more spread out with some front runners. Another team with front-runners is Olathe North. They went 1-2 last year with Anjali Hocker-Singh and Shea Johnson. They might do it again, too, since both of them are Juniors this year. They lost a little bit to graduation, but still return enough to compete for a position on the state podium.
Individually, Hocker-Singh and Johnson are obviously going to be in the mix. Olathe West's entire roster is a threat, though. Bree Newport (17:56), Kate Miller (18:03) and Charis Robinson (18:16) will be the ones to watch as the season progresses. Washburn's duo of Madeline Carter and Payton Fink will perform well this season, too. The only individuals not in the team battle will be Shawnee Mission Northwest's Paige Mullen, who was third at state last year, and Shawnee Mission South senior Hannah Gibson.
For the boys, I'll address the elephant in the room right away: Micah Blomker has the fastest 5K time in Kansas High School history, so he's a favorite not only for 6A, but also for the Heartland Regional in November. He is the best, and will continue to be the best until he says otherwise. Blomker's 14:49 power outweighed everyone in 6A last year, but one local accolade continues to elude his grasp: League Champion. Though, it may not be significant enough to even worry about at his stature.
Last year's Sunflower champion, and 6A runner up, was SM East's Wyatt Haughton. Haughton returns this year and leads his team's bid at a state trophy. The Lancers have a well-balanced team, including a great 6th man, but there is some room to grow throughout the season.
A similar team to the Lancers, Olathe East will also contend for the 6A crown. Led by Carter Stewart, who ran 15:17 a year ago, the Hawks will look to build on a 2021 campaign where they surprised everyone with a 3rd place finish.
Standing in everyone's way, though, is defending champs Olathe South. These blue & yellow birds bring back five from their championship team, and pack as well as anyone. They also have the best 5th and 6th runners in the state, which can carry you a long way in a close race.
Two other teams that could have great seasons are Garden City, led by Devin Chappel, and Blue Valley North, led by Prabhav Pagadala.
Many of our individuals have already been mentioned, but keep an eye on Henry Born of Shawnee Mission Northwest and Sam Hurley of Blue Valley Northwest, who both ran right around 15:30 last year. Jake Beauchamp is the top returner from the Wichita schools, placing 11th last year for Southeast.