Monday, August 31, 2009

Saddle up, it's gonna be a wild one!

Did you feel it this morning? The cool air? As I walked out to my car this morning, I noticed a slight chill in the air. To me, it means fall sports season is here. Without a doubt, this is the time of year I look forward to most. No, not because of the Little League World Series, (but thank you ESPN for assaulting me with wall-to-wall coverage of baseball I couldn't care less about,) but because this is the time of year when everything really ramps up. MLB pennant chases are beginning to heat up, training camps everywhere are coming to an end, and until the season begins, the Chiefs actually have a chance, (full disclosure: I am a die-hard Chiefs fan, so I'm allowed to make fun of them)!

But most of all, I'm excited for high school football. I think this year will turn out to be one of the most compelling years we've had in a long time. Can Weston Schartz pull off another memorable season at Northwest? Can Blake Bell improve on an already record-setting career? Is this the year North, South, or West finally break out and surprise some people? So many fun stories to cover, and that's just the City League.

Can Hutchinson win a sixth title in a row? How about Smith Center? Not only going for a sixth title as well, but trying to maintain the nations longest winning streak, currently at 67, (do yourself a favor, read Joe Drape's new book "Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen". It's a great read, and it all takes place only a few hours away.) .

So many great stories, but we'll try our best in the coming months to cover them all. In the mean time, saddle up, and hang on, because it's gonna be a crazy ride.

New Season, New Coaches

In the past few weeks I have been to 11 different schools doing football previews for the new season. From those 11 schools, four had new coaches. OK, that doesn't sound like that big of deal, but in week one I saw seven teams and all four new coaches were in those seven teams. So the coaching turnover rate of my first week of football was more than half. WOW

I went into this season thinking I would have it easier than last because all of the coaches already knew me. I knew of two of those changes but the other two were shockers. One thing I am thankful for is that I'm in southwest Kansas, every team out here is super happy to get any coverage so typically the coaches want me there.... first season or twentieth.

Jetmore was the first stop I made. New coach, Russell Durler, a former Longhorn. Durler graduated in 2003 from Jetmore high school and from there went on to a one year stint at Garden City Community College coaching the defensive line. Durler has a tough task with only four starters returning. Last season the Longhorns went 4-5... two seasons ago they were 9-0. In those seasons it was Chad Cahoon pulling the reins. Cahoon left this season only because he said he was burnt out.

Moving over to Jetmore's rival, Spearville. Longtime Lancer head coach Kelly Lampe left after seasons of 3-6 and 5-5. This season the new option heavy offense the Lancers will run was introduced by Matt Fowler. Fowler is also bold enough to do some position transitions. The biggest for the team will be moving quarterback Ryon King to fullback... I mean he does have and extra 20 pounds on him this season. Fowler says the teams discipline will be what leads them to victory in '09.

Now more south. Minneola adjusts to former assistant coach Aaron Schilde stepping into the head coaching role. Schilde will have some hefty shoes to fill of former head coach Curtis Albin, after last season's 7-2 record, 4-1 SPIAA record and a trip to the playoffs. He does however, have seven returners which includes 1,300 yard season QB Ethan Ediger.

So the furthest south, Liberal. Former defensive coordinator at Tulsa Union High in Oklahoma, Wade Standley is now the big dog at Liberal. Liberal's a team who is typically good. For the past few seasons good turned to not so good. Just 2-2 in the WAC for the past two seasons. The Skins even had the player of the year on their team in Nate Davis, and they still couldn't win? So Standley has brought the Spread...a running option game... and his multiple stacked Defensive. The players are responding well to him and because of that he has found the quirks that make the team tick. First and for most.... the team's speed. Ranked third in the WAC coaches preseason poll, Standley hopes for an even better post season.

Keep looking for updates of these school at the CIK website!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Class 2A Boys Preseason Cross Country Rankings

Seemingly everyone is returning in Class 2A this year on the boys side with 17 of the top 20 from last year’s state meet set to return.

Team Rankings

1. Berean Academy – Last Year: 89 pts – 2nd overall Returners: 78 pts – 1st
There is nothing not to like about this team. All seven runners return from last season’s state team. Not only do all seven return, but they are very strong one through seven. Numbers four through seven all finished within 12 spots of each other and were all in the top 45. Berean does not have a true frontrunner, but its depth cannot be ignored.

2. Stanton County – Last Year: 93 pts – 3rd Returners: 107 – 3rd
Stanton County had a great showing at the state meet last year led by a pair of top 10 finishers in Eric Ruth and Johnathon Carrisco. Both runners have shown great improvement from last year to previous high school years. Ruth was 53rd as a freshman, 14th as a sophomore and fourth last year. Carrisoco was 80th as a freshman and sixth last season. The same is true for its fifth runner with Chris Sierra moving up from 88th as a sophomore to 54th last season. Even the sixth man (fifth fastest return for Stanton County) moved up from 97th place to 81st place in one year. If Stanton County continues its recent tradition of improvements by leaps and bounds then there is no reason it will not be second.

3. Maranatha Academy – Last Year: 86 – 1st Returners: 90 – 2nd
Maranatha has a higher returner score than Stanton County, but top returner Brant Asbell had a tough state meet and got beat in the 3200 by several runners he had no trouble with at the state cross country meet. Stanton County got a great showing out of Ruth and that is what gives it the edge over the defending champion. There is also potentially a lack of depth. A solid five do return for Maranatha though.

4. Minneapolis – Last Year: 140 – 4th Returners: 108 – 4th
I like this team a lot. It took me a while to talk myself out of ranking it in the top three, but there is just too many questions about the back half the team. There is not a better one-two-three punch in the state than Garrett Daugherty, Collin Trickle and Dylan Hackett. They were all three top 15 at 2A state last year. Minneapolis was led by Daugherty and his meteoric rise from 52nd to fifth last year. The four through seven runners are an issue though. If Minneapolis can find two more runners to run sub-19-minutes at the state meet then I think it will be the state champion team this year in 2A.

5. Jackson Heights – Last Year: 168 – 7th Returners: 147 – 6th
Cory Keehn leads Jackson Heights as the returning individual state champion. The one and two are solid, but past that there is not much. Olpe could also be in this spot but it depends on whether Lance Sadler goes out for Cross Country or not this year.

Individual Rankings

1. Cory Keehn – Jackson Heights, Junior

Last season Keehn came got fully back from life threatening health problems and won the cross country title. He took second in the 3200 at the state meet, but has to be the favorite coming back after winning the title last year by 19 seconds.

2. Eric Ruth – Stanton County, Senior
Ruth has turned himself into a runner. He went from 53rd as a freshman, to 14th to fourth last year. Everything came full circle as he outkicked Keehn for the 3200 meter state championship this past spring. If it comes down to a kickers race then my money is on Ruth.

3. Cody Miller – Wathena, Senior
Continuing our theme of improving runners is Miller. He has gone from 30th to 19th and finally to third last year. I think he gets leapfrogged by Ruth, but still holds on for another third place finish. There is just so much experience returning in this class that it will be very interesting to see how things pan out.

4. Brady Johnson – Plainville, Sophomore
Last year Johnson took 12th, but continued to improve in his freshman season as he placed third in the 3200. Improvement like that over the winter for a freshman is impressive.

5. Garrett Daugherty – Minneapolis, Junior
When runners get a taste of the top after being a middle of the pack runner they generally do what they can to stay up there. Daugherty went from 52nd to 5 between his freshman and sophomore years. He has solid training partners up there in little Minneapolis.

Is there a runner or a team you think I omitted? Let me know what you think of the rankings by leaving a comment or e-mailing me at

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Class 3A Preseason Girls Cross Country Rankings

The 3A Girls rankings were by far the toughest to do. The upper crust is easy, but after number three there is definitely a fall off. Freshmen will have a bigger impact in this class than any other. Four freshmen finished in the top 20 last year. Several teams are only one newcomer away from being in the top five come October.

Team Rankings

1. Riley County – Last year’s score and place: 52 – 2nd
Riley County has been second or first in each of the last five years at state. Belle Plaine had a Cinderella season last year and knocked it off the top after a three year reign, but Belle Plaine has come back down to earth while Riley County just reloads. Its returning score of 53 is 18 points better than the second place team on this list. I also will not be surprised to see Riley County churn out another star freshman. Last season its top three runners at state were all freshmen. There is virtually no way Riley County loses if it returns even just four of its five. Programs like this always have backups to turn to.

2. Southeast of Saline – Last year: 115 – 3rd
Southeast of Saline returns a pack and the big difference between it and the number three team on this list is at the number five spot. Last year Southeast of Saline’s fifth returner finished ahead of both Remington’s four and five. The lack of a front runner makes it very vulnerable though.

3. Remington – Last year: 120 – 4
Morgan Trible finished sixth as a sophomore and is the second fastest returner, so Remington has the frontrunner to compete. Its sixth runner last year finished 75th overall and will need to step up closer to the fourth runner if Remington is to beat Southeast of Saline and get second.

4. Wichita Collegiate – Did not qualify
Yes, you read that right. I am putting Collegiate as a top five team in 3A this year after not fielding a team last season. The reasons for this are threefold. First, 3A is extremely weak this season. Graduation ravaged its ranks and there will be a major fall off after three teams where anyone can win it. Second, the Newlin twins (Maggie and Ellie) showed great improvement in track. Maggie was only 10 seconds behind 28th place finisher from the state cross country meet Camille Christensen at the MCAA league meet. Her sister is capable of running with her. Both have trained this summer and are top 25 capable in a weak field. Both twins did fall off at the state meet. The third factor is Megan Duggins. Duggins fell off the map due to an injury that derailed her entire sophomore campaign in cross country and most of her track season. She was well enough at state track to bust out a 2:24 and give Amanda Callaway from Belle Plaine all she wanted to handle for 600 meters. Remember, as a freshman Duggins beat Callaway at the state track meet when she finished eighth and Callaway was 9th. That second place finish in the 800 proved she still has it. Collegiate will field a team this year and their four and five are decently solid from what I have heard.

5. Kansas City Christian – 187 – 6th
You probably expected to see the defending state champion Belle Plaine Dragons here, but I do not think they will even qualify as a team for the state meet. Taylor Scott, Ivy Wellman and Amelia Hunt all have the ability to lead a team, but Belle Plain likely cannot field a team unless some newcomers step in. Belle Plaine only raced six girls at the regional and state meets last year. Losing two top 10 performers (including the state champion) will likely be too much to overcome. Kansas City Christian has a solid core of returners, but no frontrunners. Its five scored 50 team points last year and will have to step up along with an unknown runner.

Individual Rankings
1. Rebecca Strecker – Ellinwood, Sophomore

She did not run cross country last year, but showed up on the track and took second in the 3200 at the state track meet. Her 11:52 was 40 seconds faster than any other returning runner. I don’t know if she is going to run cross country, but if she does she will be the immediate favorite.

2. Megan Duggins – Collegiate, Junior
I am going out on a limb with my top two runners, but wrap your mind around this. Duggins was the MCAA Cross Country champion by 41 seconds with a time of 16:44 in the 4k. She did it off of virtually no training as she recovered from an injury. Duggins will be a force to be reckoned with this year.

3. Kimberly Smith – Northern Heights, sophomore
Smith stepped up in her first season and went toe-to-toe at the state cross country meet with Norton’s Laura Lee Baird, who is now running at Kansas State. She lost by five seconds, but the experience is there.

4. Karly Ruggle – Riley County, Freshman
Ruggle did not have a great state track meet, but Riley County will put at least one runner in the top five and Ruggle is the top returner. Teammates Emily Collins or Kelly Thomson (also only sophomores) could easily be in this spot as well.

5. A newcomer you have not heard much about – School: ??
Class 3A is so wide open this year that somebody is going to burst onto the XC scene and make a top five in her first season. I cannot venture a guess as to who yet, but it will be somebody. Have any of you heard what freshman/new girls will make some noise in 3A? Let me know because I know some of you have an idea!

You can contact me by emailing to or leaving a comment. Come back tomorrow for more rankings.

Class 2A Girls Preseason Cross Country Rankings

Class 2A Girls is an absolute mess this year with 30-percent of the girls who stepped to the line at the state cross country meet last season leaving for college. The team rankings start out where they ended in 2006 and 2007.

Team Rankings

1. Bennington - Last Year Score and Place: 2nd – 92 points
This one is the easy call. Seven girls return to a traditionally powerful cross country program (two of the last three titles belong to Bennington). Bennington has everything you would like to see out of a top team. Jillian Stratman (second last season and fifth as a sophomore) provides stability at the top. Kaitlyn Wolf was a top 20 finisher last season at 14th overall. Jordanne Ehrhart and Sadie Gantovoort are to top returning three and four runners in the state as well. Add in the bad taste for having a two-year winning streak snapped and that is a formula for a dominant Bennington squad.

2. Clifton-Clyde – Last Year: 7th – 156
The next two teams on this list also return a full scoring team of five runners. Clifton-Clyde has a score of 108 if you just score the returners, they just barely edged by Republic County’s 107 returner score. I give the edge to Clyde because of the better frontrunners it has returning Karly Van Campen and Kenzie George were both top ten finishers last season. These two teams are almost mirrors of each other though.

3. Republic County – Last Year: 3rd – 98 points
Republic County does have frontrunners; they just are not as good as what Clifton-Clyde has to offer. Jaclyn Sheets and Kelsey Keefer finished 12th and 13th last season as individuals. This race is really too close to call.

4. Shawnee Maranatha Academy – Last Year: 1st – 62 points
After the top three it gets tough. Maranatha won last season’s title and was runner-up to Bennington in the two years previous. It gets this ranking from me out of pure respect for what the program has produced in the last several years. From the success of the girls teams to Zach Zarda setting the 2A 3200-meter record in 2008, there has been a lot of success that is no accident and a product of good coaching. Only three girls return, but Bethany Zarda is a good place to start as she took fifth last year. Class 2A is wide open and if Maranatha can field a decent four and five then it could easily remain in the top five after losing four girls (numbers one, three, four and six to be exact) from last season’s championship team.

5. Olpe – Last Year: 9th – 193 points
Frontrunners are the story in this class and this choice came down to Olpe and Berean Academy. Defending champion Katelyn Henderson is the difference. Berean’s top girl finished 46th last season and is only 33rd fastest returner. No top five team regardless of class or gender had a number one runner outside of the top 25 last year. It is not impossible, but it is tough to get a top five finish without a solid number one runner. Berean runs a great pack, but it will likely just not be enough. Olpe is another program with tradition as it boasts two girls champions in the last two years (Henderson and Sharon Zeller was 1A champion in 2007), it also has three team championships in the last five years (all 1A championships). With numbers four and five on this list I am going with the thought that “tradition never graduates.”

Individual Rankings

1. Katelyn Henderson – Olpe, Junior
Henderson is a stud and should be the favorite to win this year and next. She watched teammate Sharon Zeller win a championship in 1A when she was a freshman, and then she picked up right where Zeller left off in class 2A. Henderson was fourth as a freshman and has shown great progression as a runner. She also has a track 3200-meter championship to her credit with a runner-up in the 1600 this past spring.

2. Jillian Stratman – Bennington, Senior
Stratman is another runner that has only gotten better as her running career has gone on. She took 16th as a freshman, fifth as a sophomore and second last season. Unfortunately, Henderson stands in her way. She did beat Henderson in the 800 in track, but that was after Henderson had already won the 3200 and beat Stratman by 10 seconds in the 1600. Stratman is a clear candidate to finish second again, but I don’t think Henderson will relinquish the top spot.

3. Bethany Zarda - Shawnee Maranatha Academy, Senior
Keeping up with the theme of improving ladies, Zarda is the poster girl for improvement. She did not run at the state meet as a freshman, was 26th her sophomore year and stepped up with a seventh place finish her last year. I am not sure if she has any relation to Zach Zarda, but if she is then the pedigree is there to run fast. She was fourth last spring in the 1600.

4. Karly Van Campen – Clifton-Clyde, Junior
Van Campen took fourth last year and continued taking the momentum into track where she was third in the 3200. The top Clifton-Clyde harrier was seventh as a freshman, but the three ladies in front of her are solid as well.

5. Lauren Carter – Elkhart, sophomore
If Carter can continue to improve then by her senior year she should have no problem locking up a title, but that championship year is still a couple away. She was the fastest freshman in 2A last year by 46 seconds. Carter proved her ability was not a fluke by taking fifth in the 3200 on the track as well.

As always and comments or suggestions leave a comment or contact me at

I’m about to cheer for Oklahoma?

What I am about to write is going to be painful. It may cause me to lose every friend I’ve ever had, and be disowned from my family.

I am a life-long Kansas State University fan. I have two uncles who are proud graduates of K-State, and I myself was enrolled.

And so, the University of Oklahoma has not been a favorite team of mine through the years, to say the least.

But, with all the athletes I have been following in Kansas high schools now putting on Oklahoma uniforms, I will have to swallow my pride and cheer for the Sooners.

This will be a world of uncharted territory for me.

Perhaps the most recognizable Kansas high school star heading to Oklahoma is Blake Bell. All eyes will be on the Carroll senior quarterback and OU commit this year. Last year as a junior, Bell obliterated defenses, completing over 63 percent of his passes for 3,240 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Add in 336 yards rushing with a 3.7 yard average and 12 rushing touchdowns, and you have the number two-ranked quarterback in the country.

Bell is only one of two returning starters on Carroll’s offense, but his presence alone puts the Golden Eagles in the discussion at the top of the GWAL this year with Heights, and Northwest.

Gone are the receivers that picked up the vast majority of Bell’s passing yardage last year. So, this year’s crop of receivers better get ready, because the ball will be on target. 63 percent is a number achieved only with great decision making, combined with accurate execution.

On the hardwood this winter, look out for recent Derby graduate, and now OU basketball player Joanna McFarland. McFarland left a huge mark on the Derby record books, with school records in single game scoring (47), season scoring (587) and career points (1,818).

If you want to know exactly what McFarland is capable of, ask the Wichita Southeast Golden Buffalos. In a game against Southeast last year, McFarland exploded for a 47-point, 31-rebound performance.

47 points and 31 rebounds?


I did a spit-take the first time I heard those numbers. Oklahoma lost the Paris sisters off last year’s Final Four team, but made a big addition to the team for the next four years with McFarland.

McFarland’s brother Jacob, a K-State engineering student, feels the full force of this rooting interest dilemma, and agreed whole-heartedly when I explained my discomfort with rooting for the Sooners to Joanna. McFarland’s older sister Jessica played basketball for K-State from 2002 to 2006. Middle sister Jackie started her Big XII basketball career at Colorado in 2004.

Keeping things in the winter season, we move on to the handful of Kansans that joined an OU wrestling recruiting class ranked in the top three in two different national rankings.

Tyler Caldwell, who will redshirt in his freshman year at OU, along with Goddard teammate Boaz Beard, put themselves in the record book last year, becoming the only teammates to graduate as four-time state champions.

Caldwell is the 43rd-ranked wrestler in the country and is the eighth-best wrestler in the country at 160 pounds.

Caldwell’s roommate at OU, Wichita Heights wrestler Kendrick Maple, finished his career as a Falcon with a perfect 81-0 record and two state championships in his junior and senior years.

Wrestling is not nearly as easy as Maple made it look at last season’s state tournament. Every one of his matches was won by fall, or technical fall, including a technical fall in 2:17 of the championship match.

Kyle Detmer completes the Kansas trio of OU wrestlers. After being upset in the state finals two years ago, Detmer wore the Bishop Carroll singlet with a vengeance last year. Detmer cruised to a 5A state title at 160 pounds and left an impressive wake of destruction, including a win over 2008 Cadet Greco National Champion Chase Nelson in the finals of the Carroll tournament.

This venture into OU sports will be a difficult one for me, but it is not a venture of obligation. Despite my disdain, OU has one of the premier athletic departments in the country. The Sooners do not accept anything but the best athletes in their programs. These Kansans have earned their spots at OU, and we will all be extremely proud of them, and the way they have represented our state.

Even if it kills us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

5A Girls Preseason Cross Country Rankings

Class 5A is going to be plain fun to watch this year with several great storylines already on the table. Lets jump right into the team rankings.

Team Rankings

1. St. Thomas Aquinas – Last Year’s Score and Place: 74 - 1st Returners: 74 – 1st
This is a close one. There are a ton of returners in 5A and there will be a definite separation between the top six or seven teams and the rest of the field. Aquinas was the champion last season and this year should be no different with four top 25 runners returning from last year’s championship team. Leading the pack, like she has for three years, will be senior Ashley Washburn. Washburn is a three-time runner-up in her time at Aquinas. Amanda Pigott and Betsy Donahue are both in the top 20 returning runners.

2. Kapaun Mt. Carmel – Last Year: 84-2nd Scoring Returners: 129-3rd
Don’t be fooled by the low returner score. Katie Hand took last as a sophomore last season, but is top seven capable if she runs to her abilities. Head-to-head last year she beat the likes of Great Bend’s Rubi Torres (fifth at 5A state XC), Kristen Sponsel of Carroll (14th at 5A state) and Molly Milbourn (Class 4A State XC Champion). Hand has the ability to give the Crusaders a legitimate number two runner. Mackenzie Maki returns and there is no reason to doubt that she could be the champion once again. Her biggest competition likely will come from a freshman (more on that later). The difference is going to be all on Caroline Kastor. Kastor is a soccer star for the Crusaders and ran well for Kapaun through the Oklahoma State Jamboree, but then disappeared from results. I am not sure why that happened, but if she comes back then watch out. Kastor ran only six seconds back of Ark City’s Valerie Bland (6th at 5A state) early last season. Then at OSU she was 34th out of 163 with a time of 12:29 for the two-mile. That is three girls with top 10 potential. If Maki, Hand and Kastor all step to the line at state this year, the Crusaders will win the title, but until the uncertainties are answered the defending champs get the nod.

3. Bishop Carroll – Last Year: 165 – 5th Scoring Returners – (Only four return)
Kaelyn Balch. Get to know the name if you are a fan of running in the state of Kansas. Balch stepped to the line at the River Run in Wichita last year close to the end of her eighth grade year and ran a 36:36 10 kilometer race to take 13th overall. That is 5:53 per mile for a 14-year-old girl. Over 2,000 runners stepped to the line for the River Run and Balch finished before all but 12 of them. That same pace converts out to a 14:32 pace for the 4-kilometer distance. If Balch can hold her 10k pace from May this Halloween, then she will at the least be the runner-up (Maki won with a time of 15:12). Carroll always has a solid team and adding a runner like Balch gives them the edge over the next team on this list. The top four from last season’s state team return, including 14th place finisher Kristen Sponsel.

4. Great Bend – Last Year: 102-2nd Scoring Returners: 78-2nd
Great Bend returns all seven from last season’s third place team. It returns a front runner in Rubi Torres (fifth place last season). There is a lot to like about this team, but its lack of performance on the track this spring scares me. Great Bend did not qualify a single girl for state track in a distance event. Torres did play soccer last spring and number four runner Erin Sullivan did swim team instead and Heilman did track, but failed to make state in the mile. For the other four girls they are unaccounted for. If the girls are in shape and healthy then they will battle Carroll, but I still like Carroll’s supporting cast better this season even though Great Bend is proven.

5. Emporia – Last Year: 170 – 7th Scoring Returners: 136 – 4th
Emporia’s story is much the same as Great Bend. A host of young girls return from last season’s team (the top six to be exact). Jenna Stanbrough is back after her 11th place finish last season. She had a solid season on the track with showings in the 800 and 1600 at the 5A state meet.

Individual Rankings

1. Mackenzie Maki – Kapaun, Junior

This season is going to be fun to watch with Balch and Maki going head-to-head five times before region. They will likely meet up seven total times. Maki gets the nod as the defending state champion and after her stellar performance on the track this last spring.

2. Kaelyn Balch – Carroll, Freshman
Some will say Balch is too unproven to get this high of a rank, but 36:36 in the 10k speaks for itself. To put that in perspective, she was less than a minute slower than two runners who did the 10k at the USA National Championships in late June. Those ladies are professional runners who were peaked and running on the track. Her and Maki should develop a great rivalry.

3. Ashley Washburn – Aquinas, Senior
She has never been here before with her three consecutive second place finishes, but Washburn will just be a victim of bad timing with young runners transferring and moving into high school in her latter years of high school.

4. Paige Miller – Pittsburg, Senior
Yes you read that right, Miller is down in Pittsburg now. She transferred after running at Valley Center for her first three years. She was third last season and I don’t see any reason that trend does not continue.

5. Brooke Vining – Valley Center, Senior
This is the only way that Miller and Vining can finish their high school careers. They have been mentioned in the same breath for three years, but now are at separate schools. The state cross country meet will be the first time they meet and you can bet the fierce rivals will be amped up to race each other one more time at Rim Rock.

What class ranking do you want to see next? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending an e-mail to

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

6A Girls Cross Country Preseason rankings

This season, barring injury or nonparticipation, 74 of the girls who stepped to the start line at last season’s state meet will be back racing this fall. Eleven of the 12 teams that qualified for state last year return at least five runners.

As always freshmen will play a huge role in how this season shakes out (six freshmen placed in the top 15 at state last fall), but these rankings are based on what teams have coming back and how the track season went.

1. Derby: Last year’s Score and Place: 86 - 1st Scoring only Returners: 98 - 1st

This season’s preseason rankings start where last season’s ended, with Derby on top. The Panthers pulled off a huge upset by becoming the first school outside of Northeastern Kansas to win a 6A girls cross country title. Tenth place finisher Laura Burke has moved on to Wichita State, but numbers two through six return. When I broke out only returners from last year’s meet, Derby is still the champion with 98 points based on only returners. Super sophomores Emily Hornbeck and Amber Green should return. Last fall they placed 11th and 12th respectively at the state meet. Hornbeck surprisingly failed to qualify for the state track meet as an individual thanks to a brutal regional meet where her 11:33 in the 3200 was not good enough to be in the top four and qualify for state. That same time a week later would have been good enough for fourth at the state meet. Her teammate Green finished 10th in the 1600 last spring at the state meet. Tori Lewis, Valerie Nielson and Brenna Kleman all should also return.

2. Blue Valley Northwest – Last Year: 157 – 7th Returners: 128 – 3rd
Blue Valley Northwest is one of the perennial 6A powers that slipped a little last year. After winning in 2007, the graduation of Laura Roxberg was felt and Northwest slipped to seventh. They return their 1-2-4-5-6 runners including top 25 finishers Catie Miller and Anna Roxberg. Roxberg slipped to 24th overall last year after a 10th place finish on the state championship team.

3. Manhattan – Last Year: 106 - 2nd Returners: 149 – 6th
Much like Blue Valley Northwest, Manhattan gets this high of a ranking based on tradition. Marley Crusch and Brooke Grieger are gone, but three consecutive second place finishes speak for themselves. Brianna Heikkinen showed she has the capability to be an elite runner as she finished 15th last year as a freshman. She also had an excellent spring finishing fifth in the 3200 and 12th in the 1600 at the state track meet. The 5-6-7 runners will have to step up or a freshman will have to burst onto the scene, but Manhattan has the tradition to hold in the top three.

4. Shawnee Mission South – Last Year: 127 – 5th Returners: 103 – 2nd
Shawnee Mission South returns an impressive pack only losing its number four to graduation from last year’s team. The knock on this team will be a lack of a front runner. Hayley Cline, Jordyn Smith and Allie Antrim provide a solid pack up front. A lackluster spring on the track is another worry. Shawnee Mission South did not qualify any of its ladies from the cross country team for the state track meet in a distance event.

5. Topeka Washburn Rural – Last Year: 167 – 8th Returners: 148 – 5
Washburn Rural is my darkhorse team. They are young (three of last season’s top four were freshmen). They have now experienced number one in Avery Clifton to lead them. They got valuable experience at last season’s state cross country meet. Things are heading in the right direction with the Junior Blues. Clifton has set herself apart in class 6A as she dominated both track on the track last spring after improving all through her cross country season. Aparna Dasraju, Rachel Graf and Alyssa Golz should return to be a solid group of sophomores. Like Shawnee Mission South, Washburn Rural did not make much noise at the state track meet outside of superstar Clifton, but I like this team a lot if all the girls return.

Individual Rankings
1. Avery Clifton – Senior, Topeka Washburn Rural
Clifton has become a dominant force in the Kansas XC scene and even has potential to make noise nationally. She has the ninth fastest 3200-meter time in Kansas history with her 10:40 performance last spring. The Junior Blue senior will dominate Rim Rock this year.

2. Danielle Walker – Senior, Maize
Walker has continued to steadily improve as she has become more focused on distance. This last spring she dropped the 400 at state track to focus on the 800-1600 double. It paid off in the form of a gold in the 800 and a silver (two seconds behind Clifton) in the 1600. Walker has the speed and there is no doubt about that, so I like her just slightly over the next runner on this list due to that speed.

3. Lisa Imgrund – Senior, Shawnee Mission Northwest
Imgrund is a very experienced runner with back-to-back top five finishes at the state cross country meet. The Shawnee Mission Northwest senior was third as a sophomore and fourth last year. She took second in the 3200 (37 seconds behind Clifton) last spring and was fifth in the 1600.

4. Emily Hornbeck – Sophomore, Derby
Now is when it gets a little harder. Hornbeck finished 11th as a freshman and failed to qualify for the state track meet as an individual last spring. Her 11:33 at regional would have stood up well at the following weekend’s state track meet. Hornbeck should be hungry after a disappointing finish to her freshman track season.

5. Brianna Heikkinen – Sophomore, Manhattan
Heikkinen will lead a very strong program this year. She got a chance to watch senior Marley Crusch lead the pack last season, but now it is her time if Manhattan is going to stay in the top three at state. Heikkinen finshed fifth in the 3200 and 12th in the 1600 at last spring’s state track meet.

There you guys have it. My 6A Girls team and individual rankings. Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at If you like these type of rankings I will do the same for all of the other classifications for both boys and girls.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is this the year the City League breaks through?

It has been more than two decades since the City League has won a state football title. Kapaun was the last to do it 1987 when it won a 5A title. The last 6A title was won by Wichita East in 1983, the second of two consecutive titles for the Blue Aces.

This year there are several City League teams that could break through and contend for the title.

Southeast returns 14 total starters including superstar Joseph Randle who has a chance to be first team all-league on both sides of the football.

Northwest has Demarcus Robinson and an offensive line head coach Weston Schartz think could be one of the best Northwest has seen.

Heights lost a lot, but Rick Wheeler has the Falcons contending every year it seems.

Bishop Carroll has Blake Bell and a proven system. Unfortunately it also has to deal with Hutchinson.

So if a title is going to happen for the City League this year it will likely have to come out of 6A as Hutchinson is the clear favorite to romp through Class 5A. Class 6A is wide open this year and it is anybodies guess as to who could win it.

If I had to pick a City League team to make a run at the title I think Northwest has the best shot. The Grizzlies will be able to run the ball whenever they want with Robinson and a big, experienced line. If the defense can hold up its end of the deal then Northwest will have a good shot.

Which City League team do you think has a chance to make a run at a state title or do you think it will be another year without a title for the City League?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to Work

Black rubber pellets. A few minutes ago I dumped a whole pile of them out of my tennis shoes and onto the newsroom floor.

In locker rooms around Wichita, hundreds of high schoolers did the same after the first round of two-a-days on all of these brand new, artificially turfed football fields – complete with about 9,000 tires worth of rubberized filler. Welcome to the 21st century, Wichita!

South, Heights and Northwest practiced for the first time today on their new, school bond financed field turf. Southeast and East will have theirs in place within the next couple of weeks. Bishop Carroll also joins the club with its own privately financed field of dreams, bringing the city up to speed with many of its suburban neighbors.

A year ago the GWAL was without a single turf field. This year only Kapaun will play its home games on a natural grass field. Now that’s some quick progress!

So when storms ripped through the area in the morning hours and isolated showers persisted throughout the afternoon, it was little more than a minor nuisance. Two hours after the big rains stopped, Carroll went to work on a completely dry field...
Well, almost completely dry. By the end of their workout, a couple of Golden Eagles had already lost their breakfasts, presenting an entirely new problem for veteran coach Alan Schuckman.

“I’m not sure how you deal with that. We’ll either have to hose it off or maybe just hope it dries and flakes away.”

At South, the Titans gathered eagerly around the locked gate to Carpenter Stadium. For most, their first opportunity to sample the new carpet turned into a quick baptism by rubber pellets, as South High athletic director Michelle Kuhns instructed them to lay down on certain spots to form large letters. Visible to a birds-eye camera high above the field, the message: “Thank You, Wichita.”

Weston Shartz has been through 25 opening days as a coach. “Here’s the best thing. We actually have lines on the field. I don’t think I’ve ever practiced with all of the lines, and here we have a real football field.”

Half way across town East coach Brian Byers shook his head while discussing the weather forecast. He’ll have his turf field in a few days, but not this week when rain is expected to be part of the equation in each of the next four days. He also doesn’t have his regular practice field thanks to ongoing construction work around the campus. He’ll need to be a little creative to avoid tearing up what little grass he has to work with in the season’s first week.

Southeast is in the same boat, so to speak – counting down the days while trying to dodge rain drops. West and North will have to wait until at least next year for their fields. But, overall, today has been a big step forward for a league still several behind other parts of Kansas.

The GWAL hasn’t had a state champion since Kapaun won it in 1987. The last USD 259 representative to do it was East in 1983.

Artificial turf alone won’t win titles, but it sure won’t hurt, either. At the very least it gives a long under-served group of kids a chance to feel big time for a short time during their high school careers. That alone is worth the money.

Catchy Awards by the numbers

After the second annual of the Catchy Awards some interesting trends have developed. In the first years a total of 5,488 votes have been cast by you, the fans. Here are some other trends and numbers that have stood out:

-A total of 35 different schools can boast at least one Catchy Award winner
-Andover Central leads all schools with six Catchy award wins in the first two years.
-Wichita Heights is second with five Catchy winners
-Tiffany Bias was the only individual athlete to win the same category in back-to-back years as she won the female multi-sport star category. It gives her three Catchy awards in her high school career.
-The only other back-to-back winners are Hutchinson and Smith Center football.
-Wichita North has two bowler of the year awards to its credit, but they are different bowlers. Ally Johnson won the first bowler of the year award and Nesa Hubbard won the honor this season.
-In all 13 schools have had multiple Catchy winners

To see the 2008-09 Catchy Winners click here:
2009 Catchy Award winners announced

Thanks again for making the Second Annual Catchy Awards a success!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Communities build champions

With the success the Smith Center Redmen have enjoyed over the past few years, comes a deep loathing from everyone not associated with the team. The Redmen, like the Yankees, Patriots and Red Wings, are constantly up against hoards of people who want nothing more than to see them fall.

I was one of those people.

New York Times writer Joe Drape recently released the book, “Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen.” Drape moved to Smith Center and chronicled the undefeated state championship football season of 2008.

I picked up this book, not wanting to become a fan. I fought with every ounce of my being to resist liking this Kansas football juggernaut.

My fight did not last long.

Reading this book, it becomes instantly apparent the heights the Redmen have reached, are the result of a big hoist from every last member of the Smith Center community. The adults view the school system, and more importantly, the students in it, as the heart and soul of the town. And they are all deeply invested in making sure the kids succeed, on and off the fields of competition.

There is a philosophy in which all students are viewed and even loved, as if they were the biological offspring of everyone in town. It is one singular group; mentors tirelessly working to give the youth every tool, and every advantage necessary to grow into upstanding citizens.

Of course there is a special sense of pride when one’s own kid makes a play, but this community does not talk about my son, as much as our boys.

This is a structure that stoked jealousy in me. Not the kind of putrid, infuriating jealousy caused by a sports dynasty, but a thought provoking, awestruck kind of jealousy.

It is possible for a poison, me first, attitude to creep into the fabric of small towns. Unfortunately, it is a phenomenon that usually starts with the so called, “grown-ups,” and trickles down to affect the youth, who find themselves as pawns in an adult-sized version of a high school popularity contest.

While it is always better to win than lose, the more pressing issue is how my kid performed individually. Because if my kid looked good, then I look good, and have maintained my status within the community. And if I am lucky enough to have my kid play a great game, then just maybe, I will move up in status.

As if high school kids don’t have enough to worry about, trying to maintain their own reputations within the cruel world of adolescence, but they have now been given the burden of maintaining the popularity of…their parents?

And so, athletes enter team sports as lone-wolf individuals, with no real idea what it means to be part of a larger community. They never had a chance to learn what it means to be fully accountable to a group, more important than any individual.

A team may have enough talented players to win some games and have a good year. But the lack of accountability to each other and an unwillingness to accept roles within the group prevents them from having a great year.

And so it goes.

In the world of sports journalism, the temptation while covering a team is to turn they won the game, into we won the game. As sports fans, we do this all the time. However, we did not win, or lose anything.

But what makes high school sports special, is the fact that using we is absolutely appropriate. The sport itself is a small part of the collective effort to raise the youth of a community. And because of this effort, the entire town has its fingerprints all over the product on the field, for better or worse.

Does a tight-knit sense of community support guarantee a seemingly unending, Smith Center-like string of championships?

Of course not.

The fact remains there can only be one champion per class. However, this doesn’t mean only one team per class has achieved greatness.

By the time a student reaches high school, wins and losses start to matter. But the learned ability to work together as a group and improving every day, in an effort to exceed expectations, is much more important.

The current Smith Center winning streak, which is a state record, stands at 67 and counting. It is understandably a tremendous source of pride for the community. But this community is more proud of the young men themselves, than anything they could ever accomplish on the football field.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sunflower State wins Kansas-Nebraska Junior Cup

After losing for three consecutive years, Kansas golfers defeated Nebraska last week in the Kansas-Nebraska Junior Cup.

The competition took place Aug. 3 and 4 at ArborLinks in Nebraska City. Next year’s match-play event will be in Hutchinson.

The Kansas delegation included a group of 2009 high school graduates: Elliott Soyez of Goddard, Sam Schulte of Buhler, Jeff Jarvis of Phillipsburg and Jeremy Gant of Chanute. The other Sunflower State representatives were Michael Gellerman of Sterling and Jack Cantele of Kapaun Mt. Carmel, both incoming juniors, and Caleb Childs of Bishop Carroll and Thane Ringler of Hutchinson, who will be seniors.

All four pairs from Kansas won their foursome matches Aug. 3, which gave the state a 4-0 lead. In four-ball matches, the team of Gellerman-Jarvis and the pair of Soyez-Schulte prevailed. Kansas won that round 2.5-1.5.

The next day featured singles matches. Winners were Ringler, Cantele, Schulte, Gant and Soyez. That awarded Kansas a 4.5-3.5 victory and a final result of 11-5.

The last time Kansans won was 2005, when they edged Nebraska 10-6.

The 2009 group’s victory also evened the overall series at 12-12. Next year’s contest – the 25th anniversary – will be at Prairie Dunes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Golfers compete in Kansas-Nebraska Junior Cup

Eight boys golfers from Kansas are taking on eight Nebraska athletes today and Tuesday, Aug. 3 and 4, in junior cup match play.

The golfers are facing off at ArborLinks in Nebraska City. Kansas representatives include a mix of recent high school graduates and returning high school students.

The 2009 graduates are Elliott Soyez, Goddard; Sam Schulte, Buhler; Jeff Jarvis, Phillipsburg; and Jeremy Gant, Chanute. Rounding out the Kansas group: Michael Gellerman of Sterling and Jack Cantele of Kapaun Mt. Carmel, both incoming juniors, and Caleb Childs of Bishop Carroll and Thane Ringler of Hutchinson, who will be seniors.

Nebraska players have won the past three junior cups, and they lead Kansas in the overall results 12-11. The Sunflower State contingent could even the tally in 2009, the 24th year for the Kansas-Nebraska Junior Cup.

The Kansas team features a defending state champion, Gellerman, who won the Class 3A title this spring.

Next year’s junior cup will be at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson.