Pretty Prairie's Girls (Right) toe the line at the Halstead Invitational
(Photo by Jessica Sprecker)
STATE CROSS COUNTRY HUB
Your 1A word of the year: West. The further West you go, the better these teams get. For the girls, things are very close. Quinter, the champs a year ago, are favorites to repeat this year. The margin for error is thin, though, as the bulldogs won by just two points over South Gray at regionals, and three over Ness City. Quinter has up-front firepower in Saige Betz and Brooklyn Countryman, but need their 3 and 4 to continue to have big days. South Gray looks similar, with Kylie Stapleton and Gwyn Jantz running well ahead of the rest of their squad. Ness City is a little more balanced, with a pack time of just 64 seconds. Using regional times with our 12 qualifying teams, Quinter and Ness City tie, at 63 points apiece, and South Gray is just 3 points back. In that case, the tiebreaker would go to the best 5th-runner, which is Ness City's Hannah Younger. Tiebreakers don't often come into play with a state title on the line, so the fact that it's this close is setting things up for a fun finish.
Osborne packed Mya Schweitzer, Ryah Bertuccelli, and Kate Kendig in the top-5 at the Washington regional to run away with that team title, so they'll be ones to watch as well. Colony-Crest, a team with just 4 runners, were the champions of the Wichita region. They appear to be a step behind the other contenders, but could still snag a podium spot on a good day. They have 3 freshmen leading the way, so their time may be yet to come.
A longshot contender could be Doniphan West. The Mustang girls have been the dominant force in 1A for a few years now, and it took a major upset for Quinter to defeat them at state last year. They lost star senior Elle Williams to graduation, so was last year the beginning of the end for the Doniphan West dynasty? Or was it just a hiccup along the way?
Individually, we will see a lot of new faces. Emma Weiner of Golden Plains will run to defend her 2021 title. She has yet to lose a race this year, and even if something strange happens, it's hard to doubt her after she won with a broken leg last fall. There are a handful of returning medallists from last year, but 2nd through 6th are all gone, and none of the rest were within a minute of Weiner's winning time. South Haven's Alivia Bacon, 7th a year ago, is the next highest returner, but she was 9th at the Wichita regional... to 8 freshmen.
Taking a look at those 8 freshmen, the leaders are Hailey Walden of Wichita-Classical and Lillian Skalsky of Olpe. Both have faced good competition all year long, and both have been fairly consistent. It will be interesting to see how they respond to a difficult Wamego course, since both have been on relatively flat courses for the last month. Osborne junior Mya Schweitzer was the third regional champion, so she will likely play a factor in that race as well.
For the boys, the individual race will see a bunch of new faces as well. 2021 champion Corbin Ricke has graduated, and only 3 of the top-10 return. As it would happen, there look to be three primary contenders, and each of them won a regional title on Saturday: Brenden Ellis of Ingalls, James White III of Pretty Prairie, and Grady Buessing of Axtell. Ellis won the Ness City regional by 6 seconds, and had the fastest 1A time of the regional weekend. He also won the only head-to-head matchup of these contenders, beating White III at St John on September 15th. Buessing has kept to his northeast-Kansas meets, with some courses having similar hills to Wamego, so keep the tough hills in mind.
Other individual contenders include Hutch-Central Christian's Blake Yoder, who was 3rd a year ago and has run 17:06 this year. His regional performance of 19:06 is a head-scratcher though, and he has had a rather inconsistent season. Evan Pearce of Wallace County and Broxton Gall of Ness City weren't far behind Ellis at regionals, so they could be in that lead pack as well.
Team-wise, this meet belongs to Quinter. The Bulldog boys lost to Meade a year ago, but with the Buffaloes moving up to 2A, the door is left open for Quinter to snatch the prize. Ness City gave it their best shot at regionals, but fell 14 points behind. Beloit-St John and Hartford, the other regional champions, just haven't had the firepower of Quinter and Ness this year. I like Beloit-St John's chances at a podium spot, especially with their depth. Their 6th runner has a faster PR than Hartford's 4th, which is a good sign for the former. That depth played a factor at regionals, too, where they won on a 5th-man tiebreaker with Osborne. Speaking of Osborne, they could be a podium contender, too, should a point or two bounce their way. Lastly, don't count out Brewster... they were third in the West, but West is the best right now, and may just sweep the podium.
1A Qualifying Teams
(MileSplit Predicted State Champions in Bold)
Ness City Region
Ness City South Gray
Brewster Ness City
Pratt-Skyline Hodgeman County
Beloit-St John Osborne
Osborne Doniphan West
Washington County Frankfort
Burden-Central Pretty Prairie
Pretty Prairie Lebo
MileSplit Individual Champion Predictions:
Emma Weiner - Golden Plains
Brenden Ellis - Ingalls