2023 KSHSAA State Cross Country - 3A Recap

The 2023 3A Championship was billed to be a clash of two of the most elite small-school programs in the country: Wichita Trinity & Southeast of Saline. Each took home a title and a runner-up, with Trinity capturing the boys' crown and SE Saline winning the girls'. For Trinity's boys, it's now three in a row, matching SE Saline's run in the 3 years before that. For SE Saline's girls, it's title number eleven, and their fourth in a row. One more will match their remarkable run from 1991-1995.

In the boys' race, which was the third of the day at Rim Rock, the first mile was packed up quite well. Nobody dared to lead ahead of Clay Shively after he found his way to the front, but a handful of individuals and what felt like the entire Southeast of Saline team were breathing down his neck. Shively's Trinity teammates were back in the 2nd and 3rd clusters of runners at the mile mark, but as many know, the first mile at Rim Rock is the easy part. At that point, it was a matter of whether or not Southeast of Saline could hold on to their lead long enough, because it was obvious that Trinity was comfortable and ready to move up.

Clay Shively (center) leads a crowded race in the first mile
(Photo by J. Hobson)

By two miles, Sam Ferguson had moved up alongside Shively, and Southeast's attack pack was looking worse for wear. Brayden Walker and Cayden Walker were still hanging on, and the rest of the squad was in the mix with Trinity's Jacob Hobson and Caleb Tofteland. The forward momentum of the Knights continued through the last mile, however, with Hobson moving all the way into 5th, putting 3 ahead of SE Saline's 1. Shively & Ferguson finished side by side at the front. Brayden Walker, who came in as the only 8-0 boy in Kansas, gave it everything he had and then some, but ran out of gas not far from the finish line. After a grueling homestretch, he managed to cross in 15th, but that number doesn't do justice to the effort and guts it took to go toe-to-toe with the nation's best.

Emerging in 3rd and 4th place were Holcomb's Brody Deniston and Collegiate's Will Meyer, only 3 and 4 seconds behind the leaders. Deniston's Longhorns grabbed a healthy 3rd-place finish as well.

Two hours later, it was time for the girls. Emily Hein of Wichita Trinity was the surprise of the day, breaking free in the middle mile and winning by 46 seconds over pre-race favorite Bree Allen of Prairie View. It wasn't Allen's day, but even if it was, she still would have had a tough time beating Hein, who ran seven seconds faster than Allen's personal best from the Rim Rock Classic. Hein's time of 18:37 was lightyears ahead of last season's PR of 21:02 at 3A State.

Emily Hein was all smiles during the first mile of her breakout performance
(Photo by J. Hobson)

Bree Allen held off a persistent Janae Fugitt of Cimarron by just a couple seconds, while Norton's Emma Collins and Hesston's Ashley Lehman rounded out the top five.

Don't worry that there hasn't been any mention of Southeast of Saline, yet. Their pack handled business just fine, grabbing 4 medals in the 11-20 spots, and winning by 60 points over Trinity. Norton was just another 3 points back, but Trinity's #5 runner was a big difference-maker, placing seven spots ahead of her Norton counterpart.

Twelve months from now, you may have some déjà vu when you watch the girls' races. In 3A, just three medalists are seniors, with Hannah Thong (Heritage Christian) being the only one in the top 15. In 1A, 2A, and 4A, two seniors medaled in each class. In general, girls tend to have more underclassman success than boys, but to this extent is nearly unheard of. In the other classes, there's at least a contender or two graduating: Quinter and Sacred Heart both graduate 3 scorers, Emma Cubit & Faith Ekart will graduate from 2A, and 4A champ Sydney Owens will move on. 3A, though, has decided not to say goodbye. Southeast of Saline and Wichita Trinity both return their top six runners, and with the way these programs are trending, the only way to go is up.