Saturday’s Class 5A regional cross country meet at the Lake Barton course just north of Great Bend was sort of like a league championship, only with more on the line. In the girls’ race, Valley Center edged out Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail-foe Maize South by three points for the title. On the boys’ side, a beat-up Liberal squad defeated Western Athletic Conference-foe Great Bend by two points for the championship.
“I knew it would be close between us and Valley Center,” said Maize South Coach Alan Birdsell. “We edged them out in the league meet last week, and they edged us out today. It goes back-and-forth. I’m not really surprised. Disappointed for the girls but we have another week to go yet.
Valley Center senior Morgan Wedekind continued to scorch the track, winning the girls’ race by nearly a minute in 14:47.90. The Hornet senior heads back to state with two state titles and a second-place finish already under her belt.
“Today, I led from the start, but most of the year, I’ve held back the first mile then kicked it in,” Wedekind said of her strategy.
Maize South junior Mady Nestor was Wedekind’s closest competitor, finishing second in 15:44.12. She heads back to Rim Rock after a 13th-place finish a year ago.
“I tried to stay with her more, but she’s so good that I didn’t think I could keep up with her,” Nestor said of Wedekind. “I just tried to run my own race this time.”
Valley Center freshman Kalee Owens finished third in 15:50.44, followed by three Maize South runners in senior Morgan Schaefer (15:52.68), junior Katie Trumble (16:09.18), and sophomore Kayle Barton (16:10.97).
“Our four, five, and six all finished ahead of their fifth runner,” Valley Center Coach Lonnie Thiessen said. “There were more people in this race than in the other, and they had a bigger gap between their fourth and fifth runner. We ran well. They’re a great team. We’ve seen them three times and they’ve beat us twice.”
Great Bend will also send a team to Rim Rock with a third place finish. Sophomore Mariah Stein led the Lady Panthers in 13th with a time of 16:43.60.
All three teams will have stiff competition next week against Class 5A powers Bishop Carroll and St. Thomas Aquinas.
“It will be the same situation with Aquinas, Bishop Carroll and (Maize) South, and us,” Thiessen said. “Those are for sure going to be in the mix. I use the word ‘slotting’ a lot. One kid can slot a few spots ahead of where you expect and add points.”
Maize South will be competing in its first Class 5A state run after finishing second to Baldwin at the Class 4A state meet last year.
Liberal boys win by two points
The bus ride from Liberal to Great Bend is a long one at more than three hours. Redskin Coach Tyson McGuire had plenty of time to think about things. Those issues turned out to be a moot point as Liberal won the boys’ race with 57 points. Great Bend finished second with 59 points, and another WAC school – Hays – will send its team to state after placing third with 63 points.
“We left our No. 3 runner at home with a twisted ankle,” McGuire said. “Our No. 2 runner showed up to the bus with the flu, and our No. 5 runner has a pulled muscle and we weren’t sure he was going to run. We were scratching even for alternates coming into it. It was by far the gutsiest race I’ve ever seen out of these guys.”
Redskin junior Angel Viveros pulled away from Great Bend senior Chon Chavez to win the race by seven seconds in 16:37.11.
“Last year, I used to use the strategy of just going first and keeping it,” said Viveros. “This year, since I drew back a lot, like a whole minute on my time, if I want to win, I have to start out slow and then at the end go faster when everyone else is dying out.”
Hays senior Derek Drees battled with Chavez down the stretch, finishing second in 16:46.78. Chavez crossed the line in 16:47.03 for third. Liberal claimed two of the next three spots behind senior Daniel Frazier in fifth (17:25.29) and junior Sammy Obando in sixth (17:29.23).
“Daniel had the flu, didn’t sleep last night, threw up everything and still ran and finished fourth,” McGuire said. “They were mentally prepared coming in that it was going to be tough and everyone had to step up. One through seven, they all did step up.”
Redskin sophomore Luis Medina was one of those kids showing guts after a mishap early in the race. He set a new personal record, finishing 16th in 18:11.75.