Rios wins third regional title; Esfeld wins in Great Bend
GREAT BEND, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Temperatures at the start of Saturday’s Class 5A regional cross country race hovered at the freezing point and reached a sweltering 36 degrees by the end of the final race. But the cold did not affect the top runners. Maize South senior Alexa Rios won her third regional title, and Great Bend sophomore Kaiden Esfeld cruised to the win in the boys' race.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a lot worse,” Esfeld said. “After getting started and warmed up, and getting the body moving, it felt really nice. It was pretty comfortable to run around in.”
Rios led Maize South to the team win with 24 points. Great Bend placed second with 68 points, and Valley Center scored 84 points to beat out Hays for the final team qualification to state. The Maize boys packed up to win their race with 43 points, followed by Maize South with 46 points. Great Bend scored 107 points for third place, just three spots ahead of fourth-place Newton.
Rios cut more than 20 seconds off last year’s regional time on the same course to win the individual title by 31 seconds in 18:57.10. She has lost just one race this year to reigning 5A champion Hope Jackson of Bishop Carroll. Jackson and Rios are the only two returning 5A returners to run a sub-19 state race in 2019.
“Today, I knew for the first mile I might have people with me,” Rios said. “This whole season I’ve had to learn how to push myself. I feel like the past three years, when I didn’t have anyone with me, I didn’t really have that. This year I think I’ve really learned how to pace myself. The goal was just to become a third-time regional champion and I was able to do that.”
Rios was joined by teammates Britton Kelly and Bowi Sargent in the third and fourth spots, respectively. Kelly crossed in 19:34.05, and Sargent finished in 19:45.49. Senior Claire Dingler placed eighth in 20:12.90, and junior Sage Pauly ran 10th in 20:26.16 to finish team scoring for the Lady Mavs.
Valley Center sophomore Hannah Grover paced her team with the silver medal in 19:28.04. Senior Jalea Hoddy ran seventh in 20:03.28. Maize junior Zoie Ecord rounded out the top five in 19:46.45.
Great Bend battled quarantine scares earlier in the week. Junior Emilia Diaz led the Lady Panthers in sixth overall with a time of 19:51.01. Freshman Morgan Beckwith ran 13th in 20:40.64, and junior Emma Loomis finished 15th for Great Bend in 20:47.63.
This year’s Class 5A State Championships have been moved from Rim Rock in Lawrence to Augusta. Rios will be looking to improve upon last year’s third-place finish. She’s ready for her rematch against Jackson.
“She’s such a great runner and competitor, and she’s one of my really good friends,” said Rios. “The goal is just to stay up with her and the other competition. I know Mill Valley and Kapaun are going to be our really big competition this year. My goal is just to stay up there with them. The goal is just to go out and finish with a bang.”
In the boys' race, the sophomore Esfeld entered as a favorite with a strong finish to his season. He was a contender in early races this year with multiple top-three finishes, but he’s now won three of the team’s races this season. Saturday morning he led start to finish.
“I didn’t know if maybe I went out a little too fast,” he said. “Once I got to the midpoint I took a look back and saw they were pretty far back. I thought I was pretty set and had a decent chance.”
Esfeld won the race by 20 seconds in 16:33.25. Maize South junior William Schaeffer picked up the silver in 16:53.64, and Salina Central junior William Griffith placed third in 16:57.04.
Maize and Maize South may have expected to advance as teams, but the Great Bend boys needed all five scorers to run well. Matthew Huslig and Malachi Wilson ran 22nd and 23rd, respectively, seven seconds ahead of the next runner. Apolos Johnson and Brody Feist placed 30th and 31st, respectively, just four seconds ahead of the next Newton runner.
Maize started in a pack and finished that way to win the race. Senior Kadyn Dohlman led the way in fourth with a time of 16:57.56. Sophomore Zachary Johnson placed sixth in 17:05.63, and Austin Schultz finished 10th in 17:16.63. The Eagles took the next four placings with Calvin Murrell running 11th in 17:24.74, and junior Aiden Werner placing 12th in 17:28.47 to cap team scoring.
Like Rios, Esfeld will be dealing with a new state course next Saturday. He’s looking to improve upon a 31st-place finish in a disappointing 2019 race.
“My expectation is to place top five,” he said. “Coach and I haven’t really talked about it too much, but probably in this next week we’ll start to talk more about what the game plan will be.”
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