Team Effort Brings Carroll State Crown

With three of the top six runners, Bishop Carroll grabbed the Boys 5A state championship.  Their 30 points bested St. Thomas Aquinas' 64, with Mill Valley at 104, Blue Valley Southwest at 110, Liberal at 122, and Kapaun taking sixth at 143.

Senior Nick Martin led the Golden Eagles, finishing third at 16:22.29 while sophomore Paul Becker was fifth at 16:29.47 and junior Hunter Nance took sixth at 16:38.53.

Sophomore Tristan East was the individual winner at 16:05.69 with junior Dominick Fonseca of Wichita West second at 16:19.12.  Sophomore Michael Shanahan of St. Thomas Aquinas took fourth at 16:22.61 while junior Obed Quintana of Liberal was seventh at 16:39.20.

The win left Eastham nearly speechless.

"I'm a little awestruck," he said.  "I'm at a loss for words.  It's been my dream all four years.  We took a lot of disappointment with races this year."

Sticking to his game plan paid off for him.

"I went in and had a clear plan," said Eastham, who also plans to attend the Nike Regionals in South Dakota on Saturday.  "I wanted to make sure I didn't go out too fast the first 400.  I wanted to get to the front halfway out and then get in the trees and pull away.  Out of sight, out of mind.  He stuck with me longer than I thought he would."

Douglass Surprises for Close Victory

Douglass eked out a close win over Norton and Hiawatha to repeat as Girls 3A championship.

Led by sophomore Klair Gibson's third-place finish at 15:59.80 and junior Suzie Wright's seventh-place mark of 16:19.54, Douglass had 78 points, three ahead of Norton and 16 in front of Hiawatha.  Southeast of Saline was fourth at 109, followed by Sacred Heart at 136 and Effingham at 146.

Junior Aundrea Koger of Osage City won the individual championship at 15:47.93 with 2012 champion sophomore Jordan Puvogel of Hiawatha second at 15:57.19.  Junior Kaylee Bogina of Northeast HS was fourth at 16:10.77, followed by senior Brenda McCollum of Leon-Bluestem at 16:17.23 and freshman Celia Biel of Hutchinson Trinity Catholic at 16:17.74.

Aquinas Makes History

In one of the strongest finishes of Kansas State Cross Country history, St. Thomas Aquinas took home first place in Girls 5A, while registering a historically-low 15 points.

The top-ranked Saints were expected to win with the fearsome foursome of seniors Bailee Cofer and Grace Geiger, junior Emily Downey, and sophomore Abbey Hopfinger, who have combined to win all of their races so far this year.

Saturday's run at Rim Rock in Lawrence was more of the same dominance as Cofer, Downey and Geiger finished in the top three spots, followed by sophomore teammate Monica Sneed while Hopfinger took seventh.

"I expected it to be me and two or three of my teammates," Cofer said.  "It's been like that in practice.  We're so tight.  I couldn't be prouder of my teammates.  To get one, two, three and four is amazing."

Cofer took the individual prize with a 15:28.34 mark, followed by Downey at 15:31.63, Geiger at 15:33.36, Sneed at 15:42.93, sophomore Nikki Zielinski of Andover fifth at 15:43.57, freshman Kelsi Andrews of Kapaun sixth at 15:50.43, Hopfinger at 15:51.21, and freshman Carly Flake of Andover eighth at 15:56.70.

"It's the best feeling in the world," Cofer said of taking the gold medal.  "There's nothing like it.  It's the most pride I've ever felt.  It took four years of the most intense effort I've ever put into anything in my life.  It's the best feeling in the world."

Cofer plans to run in the Nike Regionals next Saturday in South Dakota before getting ready for track season.  She has not yet chosen a college, but expects to compete in cross country.

Zielinski was proud to be the best non-Aquinas runner.

"It feels stupendous," she said.  "All the girls from the big private school and I'm from a small-town school and got fifth."

Running for the first time as a freshman, Zielinski gave up soccer for cross country.

"All my friends were doing it and I always enjoyed it and it's a sport so I thought I'd try it," she said.  "I played soccer for 14 years but I gave it up.  It was too much work to do both."

The course was a challenge for all the runners.

"I had a 15:14 at Afton, but it's a little easier course," Zielinski explained.  "I had to pace myself.  I almost collapsed on the hill."

Bishop Carroll finished second to Aquinas for the team title with 69 points followed by Mill Valley at 125 while Maize South and Valley Center tied for fourth at 127.

Manhattan Dominates Boys 6A

An expected battle for the Boys 6A title turned into a route as Manhattan ran away from the rest of the field.

Placing four runners in the top seven allowed the Indians to win with 27 points, far ahead of second-place Wichita North's 105.  Olathe North was third with 113 with Shawnee Mission Northwest at 118.

As usual, senior Chris Melgares paced Manhattan with a second-place finish at 15:56.78, behind individual champion, junior Stewart McNutt of Blue Valley West who ran a 15:33.30.

"It's crazy," Melgares said of winning the team gold medal.  "It's everything we've been working for the entire season."

Senior Sam Guinn of Blue Valley Northwest was third at 15:57.12, followed by senior Alex Finestead of Olathe North with a 16:09.15 mark.  Then came three straight Manhattan Indians:  senior Jack Keeley at 16:11.87, freshman Jackson Schroeder at 16:12.36, and sophomore Josue Alvarado at 16:20.51.

"It means the world," Keeley said of the team championship.  "Everyone had the same goal.  It's really amazing.  I'm so happy for the team.  We did so much work together, pushing each other in practice."

The Indians had a game plan to pace themselves for a strong finish.

"I definitely tried to get out conservatively and then power up in the second half of the run so I could have something left for the finish," Melgares said.

"It's always a struggle," Keeley said about trying to not go out too fast.  "I went out a little faster than I wanted.  It was a little fast, almost too much."

The championship nearly brought Manhattan coach Susan Melgares to tears.

"You get them in a position and get them ready," Coach Melgares said of bringing the title home.  "You expect it but to actually see it is incredible.  It's so great with how hard they worked.  It's a lot of glory but for years they've been working for it, six days per week for the better part of the last three years.  This is the payoff."

Conn Takes Control

Hesston captured the Boys 3A team title with 88 points, followed by Sacred Heart at 114, Riley County at 126, and Hiawatha at 132.

Beloit senior Alex Conn finished a strong season by pulling away from Pleasant Ridge senior Tony Weber to take the individual crown at 16:24.35 ahead of Weber's 16:34.48.  Phillipsburg junior Wyatt Ratzlaff was third at 16:54.03, followed by Riley County senior Blake Dodson at 17:07.37 and Belle Plaine junior Tyler Balsters at 17:10.31.

The run wasn't as expected for Conn.

"It was a little different," he said.  "The first mile was wasn't as quick but after I got to the three-quarters mark I knew I had to have the kick.  I did expect it to be tough, but I haven't raced against most of these guys so I didn't know what to expect."

Beloit coach Brad Mason took pride in Conn's efforts as a senior.

"He's stepped up and become a leader and I'm proud of that," Mason said.  "That's what sports is about; creating good leaders.  He's been getting the team to the starting lines and motivating them at the six o'clock practices.  What he runs as a racer really takes second to what he's become as a leader.  And he's only 17; he was a July baby so he's a really young senior.  I wish I had him for another year."

Mason recalls the Hesston event as the only one Conn didn't win.  And for a positive reason.

"At Hesston (teammate) Pedro Montoya was in the lead at the half-mile and Conn was behind, and Pedro didn't take the turn; he went the wrong way," Mason explained.  "Alex yelled at him to keep him on the course.  It was the only race he didn't win all year.  He told me 'the only way I'm going to beat him is fair and square'.  His goal was to win in every race and he didn't do that, but thirty years from now I'm going to be more proud of that silver he got at Hesston than the gold today."

Free State Wins Team and Individual

A freshman made it look easy in the Girls 6A championship.

Lawrence Free State's Emily Venters won the race by more than ten seconds, coming in at 14:58.32, ahead of Garden City senior Alex Miller at 15:08.41.  Manhattan senior Alana Schroeder was third at 15:20.03 with Venters' teammates senior Bailey Sullivan at 15:24.91 and sophomore Clair Sanner at 15:24.96 close behind.

It was enough for top-ranked Free State to take home the team honors as well, with 53 points.  Garden City was second at 87; Shawnee Mission West and Olathe East tied for fourth at 106 while Maize and Manhattan tied for sixth at 158.

"It feels good," Venters said.  "All my work paid off.  I've been a swimmer for the last six years.  It definitely helps (with running).  I'm not sure which I like more."

The hilly Rim Rock course was a challenge.

"The first mile I felt pretty good and then the hill almost killed me," she said Venters, who plans to attend the Nike Cross Regionals in South Dakota.  "But I thought I didn't want that to happen at state.  I used the downhill to get me going.  At the bridge I felt it again and tried to hold off the girl the last 400."

Maize junior Deidre Walker, who finished sixth at 15:28.08, also plans to run at the Nike Regionals.

"Now that the season is over, I'm getting ready for Nike," she said.  "I'll keep training, and then I'll take a little time off."

Despite a slightly worse finish this year than last - she was fourth in 2012 - Walker enjoyed the experience.

"It's a beautiful day," she said.  "It's perfect running weather.  I think the course, if you run it the right way, can go fast.  With the hills you have to work up the hills as best you can and downhill let everything loose.  I definitely tried my best to do that.  I feel like if everyone ran their best and tried their hardest we can do good."