Championship track teams tend to have one thing in common: the superstar. Most places can find the supporting cast, but they need the keystone to make it all tick. Chesney Peterson and Stanton County. Kyler True and Olpe. Kalli Anderson and Newton. Jim Ryun and Wichita East. Without the superstar, those teams are likely lost to history. With them, however, these teams are the outliers above the rest.
But maybe it doesn't have to be that way.
Let me introduce to you the outlier of all outliers:
After opening in the fall of 2017, the Owls quickly started building a distance program. By 2019, they pulled off a series of upsets to place 2nd in 6A XC. Since then, they've rattled off 3 consecutive state titles, along with back-to-back podium finishes on the track. This isn't just a novelty effect. This is a dynasty.
And they've done it all without the superstar.
Through all this success, Olathe West's girls distance has zero individual titles. No front-runner on the XC course, no 30-point scorer in the 800-1600-3200. Kennedi Cline was certainly a factor in their recent track success, winning the 200 & 400. However, she's since moved on to become a national champion at Northwest Missouri State.
And now, without a single champion, Olathe West stands as the favorite to win 6A, with the distance squad projected to score 78 points.
The anchor to it all? The 4x800 relay. They built their superstar. Last year, the Owls set the all-time state record at the Shawnee Mission North Relays at 9:17.4. A two-second improvement on the St James mark from 5A State in 2017. A month later, they improved it to 9:17.01 at NSAF Nationals with Paige Baker, Bree Newport, Kalyn Willingham, and Charis Robinson.
This year, they brought the whole crew back, including Kate Miller, who was on the relay at state. The stars aligned on Friday night, once again at Shawnee Mission North. Perfect weather, high energy, and their first stacked relay card of the season.
When the gun went off for their record attempt, leadoff runner Kate Miller had a race on her hands. Mill Valley standout Charlotte Caldwell had no plans on giving up first place. With both teams in similar uniforms, it was difficult to tell who was leading at first. Caldwell handled the first leg well, though, and set a great pace, running 2:16 to kick things off. Miller, right on her heels, handed off alongside.
Now it was up to Bree Newport to battle her way into the lead. With perfect execution, Newport powered past Mill Valley. She knew this was a race against the clock, not against the Jaguars. The junior split 2:14 and handed off at 4:30... Six seconds ahead of their halfway point a year ago. Additionally, the Owls had blown it open. Mill Valley had fallen off, and it was Paige Baker alone at the front.
Baker, coming off a huge personal best of 2:20 the week prior, was the big question mark. She's not exactly a rookie, but hadn't been on the previous record-breaking team. Could she replicate last week's magic? The answer was yes. All alone, Paige Baker split 2:19, handing off now eleven seconds ahead of the 2022 team.
The Final Exchange: Baker hands off to Robinson
Exhausted at the final exchange, Baker passes it off to Charis Robinson to finish the job. With the rest of the field now a distant memory, the crowd was fixated on Olathe West. Robinson needed a 2:26 to set the record. She hadn't gone slower than 2:20 all year. It wasn't a question of if she would break it, but by how much. After 700 meters of flawless execution, the clock ticking in the 8:40s, she knew they had destroyed the record. She couldn't help but smile the entire homestretch.
Charis Robinson beams as she crosses the finish line
Powered by the energy of the crowd, Robinson crushed a 2:13, the fastest split of the race, and fastest half-mile of her life.
Probably the most memorable, too.
With a final time of 9:03.42, Olathe West set a new standard of excellence in the 4x800. With the way this team has raised the bar this season, there's no reason to think they won't lower this mark even further before it's all said and done.
These girls aren't finished, and they weren't finished after the relay on Friday, either.
In the 800 later that evening, Robinson, Newport, and Miller swept the medal stand, each setting personal bests in the process. Robinson at 2:12, Newport at 2:14, and Miller at 2:16. Kalyn Willingham, the fifth member of the machine, got in on the fun, too. She won the 3200 in thrilling fashion, edging out SM East's Lida Padgett by a tenth of a second. Paige Baker took bronze in that race as well.
To wrap it all up, Miller, Newport, and Robinson came out for an encore: the 4x400. The magic hadn't run out, either. The trio, along with Liz Browning, were actually in it at the final handoff, battling with the fastest team in the state, Blue Valley North. Once again anchoring, Charis Robinson held off the competition, breaking the 4-minute mark at 3:59.92, the fastest time in 6A.