But Pretty Prairie head cross country coach Jon Johnson and former Skyline coach Eric Bronson, who was there merely to cheer on his former students, had been doing the math in their heads, and had declared the Thunderbirds the winners.
The HOPL meet was held in conjunction with the Kinsley Invitational. Since only some HOPL schools have a cross country program, and even fewer were able to field entire teams, the league champions were decided at Kinsley.
With Pretty Prairie and Skyline as the only HOPL teams going in with full squads, Johnson and Freeman knew there was a 50-50 chance.
Fairfield’s Lacey Buckwalter was the HOPL’s individual girls’ champion, finishing the course in 17:29.94. Pretty Prairie’s Selena Wapelhorst was the top finisher among HOPL girls where team scores were concerned, logging a 17:32.22. But Skyline’s 1-4 runners came in for the next four team slots to solidify the league title. They were paced by Megan Pyles, who was clocked at 18:10.40. Other T-bird team members competing included Brooke Fisher, Allison Sanders, Madison Moore and Patty Ibarra.
With Pretty Prairie also one of only three HOPL schools to field a full boys squad, the Bulldogs again came up the bridesmaids. Stafford – led by Derek McClure’s 17:38.89 performance – finished first as a team. Burrton, whose Trae Lane was the individual HOPL winner in 17:31.69, was third.
Other Stafford team members are Dustin McClure, Austin Ceniti, Andy Flores, Mikey Aguilar and Jesus Herrera.
And while Skyline did not have enough varsity runners for an entire boys team, Freeman was pleased with her lone varsity runner, Roman Ibarra, and others running in the junior varsity race.
“Roman had a personal best by about 12 seconds. For a freshman in a varsity race, we’re really happy. I’ve got three other JV boys, and they’ve been improving every meet,” Freeman said.
And while Johnson would have liked to have claimed at least one league title, he was pleased with the efforts of both runner-up squads.
“Our girls didn’t run as well as I hoped, but they still competed hard. … Selena had one of her best times of the year, and I’m really proud of her for stepping it up like that. Cassie Panek ran really well (finishing in 19:21.24). We’re getting there. ,” Johnson said. “On the guys’ side, we had a lot of guys really step up. Austin (Coulter) and Corwin (Williams) were up where they needed to be, Ian (Williams) was where he needed to be and Paul Crum was where he needed to be, and Seth Williams came up and beat some people who were No. 3 and 4 runners as our 5 runner, and that kind of stuff can make a difference.”
Other HOPL schools represented at the meet were Cunningham and Norwich.
The overall girls team winner at the Kinsley Invitational was Ness City, whose Jessie Rubottom was also the individual winner. Rubottom cruised to a victory in 16:31.40, easily outdistancing No. 2 Lisa Penner, Macksville, who stopped the clock in 17:05.64.
Ness City also claimed the boys’ individual and team titles at the invitational. Dray Carson covered the course in 16:36.93 for the gold medal.