The 2023 Rim Rock Classic was certainly one to remember. With 8 states represented and over 120 schools bringing in a full team, the atmosphere was electric.
Get it? It was electric. Because of the lightning delay...
Eh, the joke wasn't as fun as I expected, but weather delays aren't fun either.
As the first race of the day wrapped up, thunderstorms entered the area. While it only rained for a couple minutes at Rim Rock Farm, the lightning stuck around for a couple hours. Cross country people are tough, though, and the party rocked on. After a schedule adjustment, the meet started back up a little before noon, and the weather played nice for the rest of the day.
The first race following the delay was the Girls Gold Race. As the highest-caliber division, this was a much-anticipated race. Katelyn Rupe and Kaylie Shultz were the headliners, bumping up from Salina Central's assignment in the Crimson division. Rupe broke away as the race progressed, but Schultz had to fight off Junction City's Lorna Rae Pierce on the final skyline. Washburn Rural's Payton Fink and Omaha Westside's duo of Claire White and Stella Miller were never out of it, either, running with the pack for a while and finishing strong in 5th, 4th, and 6th respectively just 1 second behind Pierce. Rupe also won this race last year, but her time of 17:33 was notably better than her 17:45 a year ago. Her course-record of 17:13 still stands from 5A State last year, though.
Team-wise, the race belonged to Olathe West. They had me a little concerned as they entered the skyline, with only 1 runner in the top-20, and it looked as if Owasso (OK) or Washburn Rural might pull it off. As Olathe West has often shown, though, it's not the front-runner that wins it for the Owls: It's the pack. While a handful of schools could match them through 2, and Washburn Rural through 3 runners, Olathe West buried them all with their 4th through 7th. The Owls put their #7 ahead of runner-up Denver East's #5. The only team not to have a scoring runner pushed back by West's #6 or #7 was Great Bend, who packed well to finish 4th.
Next up was the Boys Gold Division. This one was way different from our preview article, since Bentonville (AR) didn't show and Liberty North (MO) left during the weather delay. On top of that The Classical Academy dominated the team race. Admittedly, I couldn't even find which state they were from during my preview research, and just knew nothing about them. I now know that they are from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and are really good at cross country, winning by 53 points. The Titans had Matthew Edwards in the lead pack, while all 5 of their scoring runners claimed a top-25 medal. The Colorado schools worked the field in this one, with Cheyenne Mountain beating out Creighton Prep (NE) for third, and Fort Collins taking 4th.
Individually, Ethan Zuber of Ankeny (IA) won this race the hard way: from the front with someone on his shoulder the entire time. Edwards was a factor nearly the entire race, but Creighton Prep's Dennis Chapman moved up into 2nd during the second half to push Zuber to his limits. The Ankeny junior ended up grabbing a 3-second victory over Chapman, with Edwards another 4 seconds back in third. Zuber's time of 15:14 is the sixth-fastest in Rim Rock history. Ankeny is the only school with two athletes in the top-10 all-time, with Timothy Sindt running 15:10 (2nd fastest) in 2018.
Blake Wohler of Free State edged out Kaleb Glazier of Maize at the end to be the top Kansas finisher in 9th. Wohler isn't exactly a new face (he was a 6A Regional champ last year), but he certainly wasn't expected to beat all the other Kansans on Saturday. Similarly, Free State wasn't expected to be the top Kansas team, either. The Firebirds beat out Gardner-Edgerton and Blue Valley Southwest, the early favorites in both 6A and 5A, and were just straight-up better across the board. This team is now on everyone's radar, and they're for real.
Next up was the Girls Crimson race. With the Salina Central duo moving up a division, Seaman's Ryin Miller became the favorite, and she didn't disappoint. Smith Center's freshman sensation Madison Howland and Kapaun Mt Carmel's Taylor Barringer were in the neighborhood, but Miller powered to an 11-second victory at 18:55. As a loose comparison, there were 12 runners below 18:55 in the Gold race. Obviously start time and competition level will play a factor, so take that information with a grain of salt. As we thought, Christ Preparatory won this division. However, they weren't supposed to destroy it. Their 50 points was the lowest of any race, boys or girls, and they won by 122 over Seaman. Andover had the tiebreaker over Bishop Carroll for 3rd. Elizabeth Kurtz and Eiley Nicholl both finished in the top-10 for Christ Prep, and all five scorers medaled.
In the Crimson division for the boys, it was Shawnee Heights senior Jackson Esquibel that broke away to win at 15:57. Again, for a loose comparison, there were 10 boys under 16:00 in the Gold race, with the winner at 15:14. Dustin Stephenson (Bishop Carroll) and Noah Summers (Blue Valley) rounded out the top-3. Team-wise, we said that Lexington (NE) was good through 4 guys, but needed to have their #5 runner just high enough to outlast Bishop Carroll. They did that, but Buhler put together their best day of the season so far to top the 41-team field. Gavin Lindahl (4th) and Kaden Lohrentz (8th) both finished in the top-10, while their #4 and #5, Henry Trumpp and Hunter Metzger were the difference makers in the team points.
Next up: the Girls Blue race. This one was led wire-to-wire by Northern Heights freshman Ellei McCrory. She's destroyed inferior competition all year, but winning a race at Rim Rock is never easy, even though she made it look like that on Saturday. Her time of 18:47 would have stacked up well in any of the three divisions, and was good enough to win by 36 seconds. Emory Speece of Osage City held the silver medal position early, but Clay Center's Lauren Smith handled the hills better, breaking away for second. Josie Walter, a sophomore from Colony-Crest, was third. She put together a smart race (probably her best one to date) with a 20:05 to edge out Irelyn Kennedy of Baldwin at the end. Team-wise Baldwin handled business as expected over Clay Center.
The Blue Boys division wrapped things up as the last varsity race of the day. Holcomb was the team favorites, and ended up winning ahead of Central Heights as expected. Hutchinson-Trinity once again showed up big at this meet for 3rd. Will Meyer (Wichita Collegiate) was the best individual, out-dueling Andrew Schumacher (Kansas City Christian). Zach Arnold (Eudora), Brody Deniston (Holcomb), and Hunter Bailey (West Franklin) all trickled in to round out the top-5 before the pack started finishing.