Saturday, October 31, 2009

Class 1A State Cross Country Preview

The defending girls champion returns in 1A, but an infusion of talent has her pushed down in the rankings.

Top 5 Individuals

1. Naomi Reeh – Bird City
Reeh has really come out of nowhere this year to be the favorite to unseat defending champion Rachel Renken of Lakeside. She was second at her regional meet to Madison Moser of Tribune by 16 seconds, but I believe she was saving it. She beat Moser head-to-head at the Wheatland Invitational earlier this season by 50 seconds. She also holds a victory over Renken at Hill City where she got her by 20 seconds.

2. Madison Moser – Tribune
Moser has wins over big over Reeh last week and Ellinwood’s Jenna Snell at Ness City earlier this season. She has flown under the radar being way out west, but knocking of Reeh last week proved she has arrived.

3. Karly VanCampen – Clifton Clyde
VanCampen moves down from 2A to 1A after a fourth place finish in 2A last season. Her time would have been good enough for a first or second place finish in 1A last year as she had virtually the same time as Renken. Class 1A competition has stepped up though with runners who have really risen through the ranks.

4. Rachel Renken – Lakeside
I very rarely bet against the defending champion, but Renken has not consistently beat top flight competitors this season. I like her experience at Wamego as the defending champion to help her nip the next runner on this list.

5. Kerra Cissne – Lincoln
Cissne beat Renken at the regional meet and at Rock Hills by 45 seconds, but Renken got her back at Lakeside and Lincoln. Bet that these two girls will be right next to each other for the first two miles for sure and then I like Renken’s state champion pedigree to show through.

Top 3 Teams
1. Tribune
Tribune nipped Burrton by one point last season thanks to a strong pack. This year it should be much easier for Tribune with Moser front running. Burrton and Tribune are much the same, but Burrton, unlike last year, does not have a front runner to offset Moser>

2. Burrton – 17:45 (Gap time of 17:33 to 17:55)
Burrton has an amazing pack. Its one through four runners have a gap time of 22 seconds which is a strength, but with no front runner it will not be able to compete with Tribune this year.

3. Lincoln
Kerra Cissne will be up front and then the two through four runners will be about a minute back fairly close to each other to procure a third place finish.

Top 5 Boys Individuals
1. Colton McNinch
There is nobody even close to McNinch. His teammate Calvin was the only 1A runner that stood a chance, but due to issues this summer he has fallen way back in the pack. McNinch will run most of the race at Wamego alone.

2. Isaac Wilson – Tribune
He was a minute and a half behind McNinch at the regional meet, but he was also sick. I think he gets within 45 seconds at state, but still never really will push the champ.

3. Peyton Wade – Haviland
He finished second at the regional meet, but the kid is impressive. He worked hard in the offseason to get here and his racing strategy is perfect for Wamego as he is a great pace runner.

4. Jordan Dahlke – Quivira Heights
He has scuffled a bit lately and was second at the regional meet, but he has gone sub-17 and beaten Wade head-to-head. It is his senior season and one final shot on Wamego’s course.

5. James Farris – Lincoln
He was a regional champion and won by 50 seconds in a relatively weak regional. He has run well against top flight 1A competition though this year.

Top 3 Teams

1. Ness City
It have competed with the big boys this year and held its own. At Rim Rock it beat teams like Derby, Baldwin and Maize head-to-head. Tribune gave Ness City a scare at the regional meet as it only lost by two points. Kyle Calvin will be the x-factor though. He needs to run well to keep Ness City at the top.

2. Tribune
No matter how much McNinch wins by it will likely only be worth one point at state as Tribunes top runner Isaac Wilson will be second. The two teams matched up very well at the regional meet as Ness City’s one and two beat Tribune’s, but Tribune’s three beat Ness City’s three and four. This one could be closer than expected, but Ness City steps up at state.

3. Pretty Prairie
There is a large glut of teams after the top two, but with Issac Williams in the top seven overall and then a solid two through four, Pretty Prairie can claim this spot.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Class 2A State Cross Country Preview

Katelyn Henderson returns and team with revenge on the mind highlight the class 2A meet.

For other state meet previews:
Class 6A
Class 5A
Class 4A
Class 3A

Top 5 Individual Girls

1. Katelyn Henderson – Olpe
Henderson is the best female runner on this side of class 4A period. She was the champion last year as a sophomore and should repeat this year. The Olpe star cruised to a 10 second win at the Wamego Invitational earlier in the season. Jillian Stratman of Bennington will give her a run, but Henderson should win out fairly easily.

2. Jillian Stratman – Bennington
Stratman is the second best female runner on this side of 4A, but unfortunately for her Henderson is in this class. I think Stratman could give her a race, but Henderson wins in the end. Henderson and Stratman will be way out front of the chase pack.

3. Hillary Bersley-Callaway – Rock Hills
Here is where things get a little tougher to predict with 1A. There are about 10 candidates to finish in the third through fifth. Callaway was third at her regional meet behind Henderson and Sarah Faber of Salina Sacred Heart. The regional meet was the rubber match between Callaway and Faber. Faber beat Callaway by seven seconds at the Beloit Invitational, but Callaway got Faber by 23 seconds at the Lakeside Invitational. Callaway was fourth last season in 1A, but could move up a spot this year in 2A for her senior season at state.

4. Sarah Faber – Salina Sacred Heart
Faber and Callaway are likely interchangeable and it should be a good race to watch. Faber’s teammate Ally Balderston could easily be up there as well because both have been Sacred Heart’s number one over the course of the season. Faber ran 16:34 at her regional meet.

5. Bethany Zarda – Maranatha Academy
There is an extreme amount of parody from here through fifteenth place. I give the edge to Zarda for a few reasons. First, Maranatha Academy has an excellent record when it comes to state meets and always shows up. Zarda was sixth last season. Third, her name is Zarda. I am guessing she is related in some way to the 2A boys 3200-meter record holder Zach Zarda who now runs for the University of Kansas. There is definitely a running pedigree there.

Top 3 Teams
1. Bennington
Stratman may not get an individual title, but she is almost assured to get a team title. Maranatha ran close to Bennington at the Rim Rock Invitational as Bennington only edged it by 2 points, but the overall time gap for each team was bigger. Bennington averaged 18:42 a girl while Maranatha averaged 18:51.

2. Maranatha Academy
Maranatha pushed Bennington in a big field early this season, but the top two teams will likely flip based on the strength of Bennington’s four and five. The teams match up well through three, but at Region Maranatha had its four and five over 18:20, while Bennington had its four and five at 18:00 or better. Bennington might be able to put six in front of Maranatha’s five and that would be huge. Maranatha did take second at its regional to Berean Academy, but they get some points for program reputation and being defending state champions.

3. Berean Academy
Berean Academy matches up perfectly with Marantha Academy and it will be a great race, but Zarda’s big gap on Berean’s one could be the difference as it is a big point difference in a large field. This race is going to be insanely close, within seven points the way I am figuring it. At the state meet, seven points is only a five second difference one way or the other for a couple of runners. This one could easily go either way.

Top 5 Individual Boys

1. Eric Ruth – Stanton County
Cross Country times are arbitrary because every course is different, but Ruth is the only one of the 2A boys that I could find that has thrown down a sub-16 performance. He was the 2A 3200-meter champion last spring in track and has continued to improve as the season has gone on and appears to be peaking at the right time for his senior state meet.

2. Jimmy Phitts – Republic County
This kid just wins. He never really throws down a sick time, but always is there rising to the competition. He beat the Minneapolis runners at Beloit Invitational where he was the champion. That was probably his biggest victory of the year as he handled the field by 20 seconds. He could be one that surprises and pushes Ruth.

3. Brady Johnson – Plainville
Johnson is another example of a kid who turned a corner in track his freshman year last spring and has continued to finish at or near the top every time he races>

4. Arlan Newby – Bereany Academy
Newby has been the consistent one for Berean in his senior season. He, Daniel Claassan and Josiah Busenitz are a formidable 1-2-3 punch. Newby’s racing style is perfect for a course like Wamego. He will go out conservatively and let the field fall back to him to finish at or near the top of the state meet.

5. Daniel Claassan – Berean Academy
Claassan beat Newby by six seconds at the regional meet, which is a culmination of his rise throughout this season where he has continued to improve and impress. He has raced against top flight competition like Mulvane. Berean Academy is battle tested and ready to go.

Top 3 Teams

1. Berean Academy
Outside of Mulvane winning 4A on the boys side, there may not be a more sure thing than Berean Academy romping in 2A. It legitimately could have three runners in the top seven and nobody would be surprised. Its top three are all sub-17 capable at Wamego and the four, five and six runners are all sub-17:30 capable. Even if one runner has a bad day, other runners will be there to pick it up.

2. Stanton County
Stanton County is extremely solid with Ruth front running and then its two through four in the mid to low 18’s ability. It will have to get a little more out its fifth runner if it is going to hold onto second comfortably. The number five for Stanton County went 20:38 at Region. He will need to be closer to 19:45 at state to secure this spot.

3. Wathena
Cody Miller separates Wathena from Bennington in my eyes. Bennington’s pack is solid, but it does not have a true front runner like Miller is for Wathena. The race is close, but Miller’s low number makes the difference in the race for a trophy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Class 3A State Cross Country Preview

Class 3A is one of the toughest classes to predict. It proved true last year when Jason Martin of Herington came from nowhere to win the individual title. Here is my best shot at Class 3A.

Top 5 Individual Girls

1. Sarah Wright – Douglass
In my season preview I ranked runners and mentioned my number five in class 5A as a newcomer and class 3A is flooded with them on the girls side. Sarah Wright has been running amazing this year and has beaten 3A competition when it comes her way. She won her regional race with a 15:40. She has beaten other contenders in Ellinwood’s Jenna Snell (15:58 to Snell’s 16:45 at Hesston) and Remington’s Morgan Trible (15:50 to 16:05 at Eureka) head-to-head this year. If this freshman quickly acclimates to Wamego she should win.

2. Heather Ruder – Thomas More Prep
Ruder did finish second to Jenna Snell at the Cimarron Regional, but it was only three seconds. Ruder has the Rim Rock experience this season where she ran 16:18 for second place. She has also gotten better as the season has gone on. In the first meet of the year Cheyenne Becker of Pratt beat Ruder by over a minute. At the league meet that gap was down to under ten seconds (it should be mentioned that both runners took a wrong route, but the duel was still there).

3. Jenna Snell – Ellinwood
Yet another freshman, Snell has continued to improve all season long. Morgan Trible of Remington beat her early at Rim Rock, but she is a different runner and her win over Ruder last week speaks volumes. She is also the MCAA league champion.

4. Kimberly Smith – Northern Heights
Smith was 14 seconds back of Ruder at the Wamego Invitational and was third overall. She finished fourth last season as a freshman and is the top returner from last season’s state meet. The infusion of underclassmen will likely keep her out of the top three for one more year.

Morgan Trible – Remington
Trible doesn’t have a marquee win on the year over top notch 3A runners, but she has a lot of solid runs. She beat Cheyenne Becker of Pratt on a down day for Becker early on, but beat her all the same. She was sixth last season at state, so experience is on her side.

Top 3 Teams
1. Ellinwood – 16:59 (Beat TMP) beat Riley Co. 18:28 to 18:41 @ Rim Rock
The emergence of freshmen Jenna Snell and Becky Elsen has made Ellinwood a force to be reckoned with. The team race will be close as it always is in 3A, but Ellinwood offers the potential of three runners in the top eight, which no other team can really do. It beat perennial power Riley County head-to-head at Rim Rock with an average time of 18:28 to Riley County’s 18:41.

2. Belle Plaine
I had written Belle Plaine off. After losing Amanda Callaway, Shelby Smithhisler and Jenny Watts from its top five last year I thought the Dragons were done. I am here to admit I was wrong. Megan Doyle has continued the youth movement in 3A as another stud freshman. Ivy Wellman has stepped up in her senior season. If Taylor Scott can get back her old form then look out, but as it is they cannot counter Ellinwood’s trio. Scott can be the difference though if Belle Plaine wants to repeat.

3. Riley County
Riley County is always there every year on both sides in 3A. They lack an Annie Martin type runner to be at the front of the pack and in a big race like this, front runners and a good pack will likely win. Karly Ruggle is their top runner, but is a bit back of Snell, which hurts in a large field.

Top 5 Individual Boys

1. Kayson Matthews – Lakin
Matthews clearly put in the work between this season and last and it is paying off now as he was 31st at state last season as a junior and is now a favorite to win the meet. He has been great every time he has raced. He only beat Mike Wolf of Holcomb by three seconds at the regional meet, but I believe he was sandbagging and saving it for state. Matthews ran 17:02 at region, but has gone as low as 16:06 from what I have found. He smashed Wolf in their other head-to-head meeting at Syracuse when he ran 16:21 to Wolf’s 16:59.

2. Collin Trickle – Minneapolis
Trickle’s team moves up from 2A to 3A this year, and Trickle has taken over as his team’s number one here late in the year. He won his regional meet with a time of 17:02, which was 20 seconds better than second place. He has the state experience and has started to head towards his peak at the right time.

3. Michael Wolf – Holcomb
I am not sure what to think of Wolf right now. He has not been consistently a stud this year as he has lost to a lot of top flight competition, but ran well at Wamego early in the year. I like what he has done lately in pushing Matthews and going sub-16 at his league meet. He is one who could show up and win the meet or finish tenth place.

4. Dillon Hackett – Minneapolis
Minneapolis is going to make a bid for a team championship and Hackett is capable of running with Trickle at any point. He was third at his regional meet, but it was on a kick and he ended up with the same time as second place. He is a senior with experience at the beast that is Wamego.

5. Enrique Sanchez – Southwestern Heights
He was second last season and is a paradox just like Wolf this season. I feel like he could show up and finish second to Matthews, or not even be in the top 15. It will just depend on how he races as he has been very inconsistent this season and was fourth at his very tough regional meet well behind Matthews and Wolf.

1. Holcomb
Holcomb ran an average of 18:31 in the 4A race at Wamego early in the year, which would have decimated Riley County which won the 3-2-1A race. Riley County ran a 19:55 average to win. Holcomb will have a battle on its hands with Minneapolis and its front runners, but should pull out the win.

2. Minneapolis
If only three runners counted then Minneapolis wins this hands down, but unfortunately it takes five runners to win a title. Minneapolis has the best top three in 3A with Trickle, Hackett and Garrett Daugherty, but the well runs dry after that. It is almost impossible to win a team title in a field this big when your four and five runners are over 19- and 20-minutes respectively.

3. Riley County
Riley County resembles Minneapolis a lot without the depth up front. Class 3A is relatively weak this year in the terms of team competition and Riley County is good enough to finish third in my opinion.

As always leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions or contact me at with any thoughts you have.

A Little to Literal

Ok I'm crossing over into "Chris Parker Territory" for a moment and looking at a quick cross country story. This blog is inspired by a story from Baltimore, where a cross country runner was disqualified because the shorts he wore under his uniform had white stitching on them. Check out the story here:,0,3430170.story

After hearing about that I decided to bust out the good old KSHSAA cross country manual to see what rules are in there that seem a little too picky.

Here's the first one I came across:

Legal Uniform: Rule 9-6-1 & 4-3-1

"When other visible apparel is worn under the school uniform it shall be unadorned and of a single (same solid) color. Example: Navy blue and royal blue are not the same color. If worn by more than one team member (two or more) that apparel must be of the same color, but not necessarily the same in length."

This is a lot like the problem with the kid in Baltimore. So that problem could feasibly happen here in Kansas. Personally, I think as long as your jersey says your school's name on it, I don't really care what color you're wearing underneath. And why should anybody care? Last I checked this was about competition not fashion. I understand having rules, but seriously, take a pill and lighten up a bit. Also, have you seen how short those cross country shorts are? Yeah I'd take whatever I could to get something underneath there!

This one I found under jewelry:

"Excessive safety pins are considered jewelry."

I recently found myself in a situation using excessive safety pins. It was at one of my best friend's weddings and the zipper split on the maid of honor's dress. About 15 minutes and 10 safety pins later apparently the maid of honor had on "excessive jewelry." Let me tell, that was definitely not considered a good looking accessory walking down the aisle. I know they need to have this rule just in case the question comes up but it really prompts me to ask, who in the world had enough safety pins on his/her uniform to warrant the writing of a rule like this? Was there a particularly goth cross country kid who was doing it as a fashion statement?

When did sports stop being about the competition? I figure as long as what a kid is wearing doesn't interfere with any other kid's performance I think it's ok. I'm just waiting for the day that high school becomes like the NFL and kids/teams get monetary fines for uniform violations. I guess the penalties in high school are a little bit worse though. Because of his stitching on his shorts that kid in Baltimore essentially lost the state title for his team to a rival school. That's something you can't replace. I'd like to find the official who told the kid in Baltimore that his choice of undergarment cost his team the title and ask said official how it felt to crush a kid's joy. I know he's just doing his job, but come on, shouldn't we all just lighten up a bit?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soccer playoffs underway

By the end of this weekend, there will only be 24 high school soccer teams left, eight in each tournament. And fewer teams mean intense, big name matchups in the quest for a state championship.

In the 4-1A Northeast Regional 3, Kansas City Christian, winners of three of the last four state championships, will take on Desoto for the regional championship. Kansas City Christian is the defending state champion, and the No. ranked 4-1A team in the state, but only entered the playoffs as a No. 3 seed. The Panther’s bid for a second back-to-back championship in five years will not be easy, with teams like Shawnee-Maranatha Academy, champions in 2004, and Perry-Lecompton, 14-2 on the year, lurking.

Rose Hill, the team Kansas City Christian beat 1-0 in the championship game last year, will have to play around a big size disadvantage against Nickerson on Friday to return to the quarterfinals. The Rockets have gotten their hands around every trophy except the championship. Last year, Rose Hill hosted the semifinal and final rounds, but couldn’t use the home field advantage to take home the big hardware. This year’s players remember that sting and are hungrier than ever to go all the way.

Wichita Trinity is another team looking to regroup after its season came to an end at the hands of Kansas City Christian in the semifinals last year. The Knights were ranked No. 1 in the state last year and on a collision course with a Rose Hill rematch in the finals when Kansas City Christian got in the way. This year Trinity is looking for a tenth-straight regional championship with a game against Thomas More Prep, and a chance to get back in the state semifinals.

Berean Academy could taste the semifinals last year after using the wind to take a 3-0 halftime lead against Rose Hill in the quarterfinals. But the three goals weren’t enough to hold off Rose Hill’s five second-half goals. There is no doubt the Warriors want another shot. If they can beat Topeka-Hayden on Thursday, the Warriors will be right back in the quarterfinals.

In 5A, a win over Gardner-Edgerton on Thursday would put Saint Thomas Aquinas in the quarterfinals and in position to win a state championship for a ridiculous seven-peat across two different classifications. 2002 was the last time Aquinas didn’t win a state championship, and the Saints aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Not only is Aquinas the No. 1 overall team in Kansas, but they are the No. 3 team in the country according to an ESPN poll.

Newton will be a major team trying for the upset in 5A. The Railers are the No. 2 5A team in the state, and are sitting at 15-2 going into a tough regional final game against Kapaun Mt. Carmel. Newton raised eyebrows around the state after losing a close 1-0 game against 6A Maize. The Railers’ only other loss was in another 1-0 game against Hutchinson, which takes on Winfield for a regional championship on Thursday.

In 6A, Maize may been the lone hope for a south central championship. The top of the class is represented heavily by Topeka-Washburn Rural, Olathe East, defending champion Olathe South and Blue Valley North.

Both Olathe South and East will have to get through Shawnee Mission schools in the regional finals, with South playing South, and Olathe East playing Shawnee Mission Northwest. No. 1 ranked Washburn Rural will get the remaining Olathe team, Olathe Northwest.

Maize will play Garden City for a chance to make it to the quarterfinals. The Eagles are ranked No. 4 in 6A with a 16-1 record, but the game against Garden City will not be easy. This game is a rematch from a Titan Classic matchup on Sept. 7. Maize edged Garden City 2-1, giving the Buffaloes plenty of reason to believe they can advance to the quarterfinals.

Maize’s only loss was a 2-1 game against Dodge City, who will take on a Wichita Northwest team, loaded with young talent. Since starting the season 1-3, the Grizzlies have gone 10-2-1, all in close games. With the exception of a 4-1 win in a rematch against Kapaun, who beat Northwest 2-1 on Sept. 12, the last 13 Northwest games have been decided by no more than two goals.

Wichita East and Wichita Southeast meet in a regional final after wins over Derby and South respectively, meaning at least one GWAL school will advance to a quarterfinal.

Southeast shut out East 2-0 on Sept. 29, but East has won eight out of its last nine games following the loss to East.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Class 4A State Cross Country Preview

Class 4A will see Mulvane continue its dominant run and a freshman make her mark.

For other state cross country previews:
Class 6A
Class 5A

1. Morgan Wedekind – Valley Center
When KSHSAA announced that Valley Center would be moving down to Class 4A there was nobody who benefitted more than Morgan Wedekind. She went from being a virtual lock for third place in 5A to virtual lock for a state championship in 4A. Wedekind has been a giant killer in her freshman season taking down big names such as Danielle Walker of Maize, Emily Hornbeck of Derby and the biggest in Molly Milbourn of El Dorado. I try not to put much stock in regional results, but a 23-second victory over Milbourn on her home course is too much to ignore. The only downfall for Wedekind is that she has never seen Wamego before. It is a course that can chew up and spit out the best of runners if they are not prepared.

2. Molly Milbourn - El Dorado
The defending champion surprised last year with her victory over BreAnna Briggs. Wamego is her course and she is still the defending champion. She cruised to victory at the Wamego Invitational earlier this season with a solid 15:18. If Wedekind is not ready for what the Wamego course has to offer then Milbourn will step right in and take the championship. She knows how to race this course.

3. Cheyenne Becker – Pratt
This girl has been anything but consistent this season, but it is a little bit of a what have you done for me lately situation. Becker was a disappointing third at her league meet, but then she turned around and dropped a 15:19 on a tough Lake Afton course. Becker fell apart at state last year after winning a regional championship at Afton. The difference was that last year she ran 15:47 at Afton. She is much faster this season.

4. Kristin Strecker – Topeka Hayden
Strecker regressed a little bit last season with a 17th place finish at the state meet. She is back and running strong this year. She was a distant second at the Wamego Invitational to Milbourn. She won the Blue Race at Rim Rock. She has also gone head-to-head with Avery Clifton of Washburn Rural twice. She is ready to run on the big stage.

5. Bridgette McCormick – St. James Academy
After finishing 20th last season, McCormick appears to be one of the most improved runners in the state. She did just enough to win at her regional meet as she nipped her teammate Amy Feldkamp for the victory. At Rim Rock in the Blue race she was second behind Strecker with a time of 16:22.

Top 3 Teams
1. Baldwin

The perennial power appears to be the clear favorite once again. It was dominant at the Wamego Invitational and has continued its run of success. It would be a major upset if someone were to knock them off.

2. DeSoto
DeSoto will be a distant second but appears to be in good shape. The team scuffled early but has turned it on lately with a very solid 17:28 average at its league meet at Rim Rock. That was an improvement of a minute and 13 seconds over the Rim Rock Invitational.

3. Wamego
The Wamego pack will out gun the front runners of Hayden and St. James for the win. In a similarly large field at the Rim Rock Invite, Hayden ran a team average of 17:49 and Wamego was 17:54 for an average but still was able to beat Hayden by 27 points because of a solid pack. Wamego also took care of Hayden at last week’s regional meet.

Top 5 Boys Individuals
1. Riley Woodward – Wamego
Woodward, to my knowledge, has yet to dip below 16 minutes for the 5k this season. The second runner on this list has done it a couple times. What Woodward has working for him is home course advantage and two victories over Evan Landes. The two have gone head-to-head at Wamego and Rim Rock and Woodward has pulled it out both times. Last season on the girls side a Wamego runner was favored (BreAnna Briggs), but an AVCTL Division III runner pulled the upset (Molly Milbourn). I think Woodward gets Wamego an individual championship this year.

2. Evan Landes – Mulvane
Landes took the honor of being the top runner on the state’s best team early on and has held onto the spot. His team is solid and will be right behind him. Landes has come into his own this season by leading his team to an undefeated season against Kansas teams including 6A juggernaut Lawrence at Rim Rock.

3. Nikki Trooien-Smith - Mulvane
Trooien-Smith is as solid a number two runner as there is in this state. He has a wealth of experience at Wamego and knows how to win, period. When the chips were down at the big meets he beat who he needed to by edging Tony Weiss of Baldwin at both Wamego and Rim Rock. He has struggled a little heading into state, but the senior should put it all together for one last run at Wamego.

4. Tony Weiss – Baldwin
This race will be a good one between Weiss and Trooien-Smith of Mulvane. Trooien-Smith beat Weiss head-to-head at Rim Rock and Wamego, but the Baldwin runner has gained a considerable head of steam heading into state with dominating league and regional championships.

5. Nick Lockwood – Mulvane
This spot could have gone to any number of runners. Hudson Phillip of Wamego, Austin Hinchey of DeSoto, James Wilson of Abilene and many others will be in the mix. Lockwood has turned it on lately and been right with Trooien-Smith. Mulvane is going to continue a very special run in 4A with three runners in the top five and five in the top 15.

Top 3 Teams
1. Mulvane

Barring injury or illness, Mulvane there is no question that romps to its third title in a row in dominating fashion. Five in the top fifteen and less than 35 total points

2. Wamego
Wamego has a very solid top three with Riley Woodward, Hudson Phillip and Kevin White. In many other seasons the trio would be enough to win state.

3. DeSoto
DeSoto destroyed Baldwin at its league and regional meets. It has a solid pack, but lacks the sheer number of front runners that Mulvane and Wamego can boast which relegates it to third place for this season.

5A State XC Preview

All the races, both team and individual, will come down to the wire on Saturday.

For other state meet previews:
Click here for the 6A State Preview

Top 5 Individual Girls:
1. Kaelyn Balch – Bishop Carroll

The race for first is going to be two girls and only two girls. Balch beat Mackenzie Maki of Kapaun a lot early, but Maki has won recently. I am giving the edge to Balch for two reasons. First is the fact that she has thrown down a 14:01 this year. Second is that she has already gone sub-15 at Rim Rock. Last season Maki won the state meet with a 15:12. Balch went 14:56 at the Rim Rock Invitational earlier this season. Balch also is probably a little fresher since she skipped the City League meet as a precaution for a foot injury.

2. Mackenzie Maki – Kapaun
Maki can win it, there is no doubt. She has learned how to race in her junior season and is riding a hot streak into the state meet that started all the way back at the OSU Jam. The race will be phenomenal no doubt and both her and Balch will go sub-14:45.

3. Ashley Washburn – St. Thomas Aquinas
The runner-up last year will likely have to settle for third place this season. She has been running solid of late after a rocky start to the season. She has the big meet experience and comes from a very proud program and strong team. Washburn is the EKL champion and was a regional champion. She just is not on the same level as the two girls above are right now.

4. Clarissa Johnson – Gardner-Edgerton
This girl is solid. She won a relatively weak regional with a solid time (15:23) out at Topeka West. She was eighth last season, but Johnson is much improved this year. At the JK Gold Classic back at the start of the year she ran 16:01, which was a 30-second improvement from her junior season. Then on a tough KC Turner course she ran 17:43, which was a 38-second improvement. Then at the Topeka West Regional on the same course this year she ran 15:23, which was a 51-second improvement over her junior season on the same course. She is ready to drop a 15:25 on Saturday.

5. Rubi Torres – Great Bend
Torres was beat by three Aquinas runners and Jenna Stanbrough of Emporia early this year at Emporia, but I still like her chances to sneak into the top five. She is a runner who has just improved as the season has gone on. At the Hays Inivitational she ran 15:49. One month later on a the same course she cut 19 seconds and ran 15:30 for the WAC championship. Torres finished fifth last season and I like her chances to repeat that performance.

Top 3 Teams
1. Bishop Carroll

This race is going to be just as fun to watch as the individual race. It is clearly a two-team race between the Golden Eagles and Aquinas. At Rim Rock earlier this season Carroll ran a 16:40 average while Aquinas was 16:46. The teams are virtually mirror images of each other with strong front runners and a great pack. The emergence of Anasastasyia Menestrina will be a difference maker. She beat Torres at the regional meet and has been running with a lot of confidence since the GWAL meet where she was third.

2. St. Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas threw down a perfect score at its regional and for good measure took the top seven spots. All seven girls beat the Page Miller of Pittsburg who was fourth at Valley Center last season. This race comes down to a few points. If any one of the top five for either team has a bad race then that could be what tips the scales.

3. Newton
This was between three teams for me. Hutchinson, Newton and Great Bend are all strong contenders, but Newton is the clear favorite after winning the Emporia regional fairly easily with three runners in the top six. The deciding factor for me was the Lake Afton course. At the regional meet Hutchinson averaged 16:45 per girl for second place and Great Bend was third with a 16:41 average. One week earlier at its league meet at Afton, the Railers averaged 16:21 per girl which clearly out paces the other two teams.

Top 5 Individual Boys

1. Adam Porter – McPherson
There is not much more to say about this kid. He knows how to win. The only loss he had this season came to Roy Wedge of Lawrence. Porter has not lost to another 5A runner in a very long time and has demonstrated his ability again and again to dig deep and out kick other runners. Twice he has beaten Hutchinson’s Cameron Sprague by only a second. Porter proved at last spring’s state meet that he possesses a rare blend of strength and speed as he won the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter runs.

2. Josh Munsch – Hays
Yes, Hutchinson’s Cameron Sprague did beat him at the Lake Afton regional. I don’t think that Munsch showed all his cards though. The Hays harrier has shown a lot better this year and has even beaten Sprague twice this season. He did it once head-to-head at the Great Bend invitational in the early season and then again at Rim Rock. The two ran in different races, but Munsch ran 16:25 compared to Sprague’s 16:53 in a different race. Munsch might have learned his lesson after last season’s regional meet where he and Porter dueled and gave everything they had at the regional meet and then had slightly disappointing state performances.

3. Cameron Sprague – Hutchinson
Don’t get me wrong, Sprague can win this for sure. What he has to do is neutralize Porter's and Munsch’s kicks if he has a shot. Sprague is a distance stud, but I don’t know if he can offer the same top end speed as Porter and Munsch. If Sprague forces the issue early then I think he can win this if he does not allow it to turn into a kickers race. If he allows Porter and Munsch to sit on him then it will probably be a third place finish for him.

4. David Thor – Bishop Carroll
Carroll always seems to peak right and Thor is right on pace to do just that. He was fourth at his regional behind Sprague, Munsch and Seth Tophoj of Hays. Carroll is smart though and have been very cautious with its top guys so as to peak at the right time. Thor is ready to do just that.

5. Javier Segura – Topeka West
He is another example of a strong kicker. He will be battling with Carroll’s Cliff Kissling and Bonner Springs’ Brooks Ballou for this spot. Segura has run in big races this season and was a regional champion. Segura has been consistently between 16:40 and 17:00 all season and is due for a break out

Top 3 Teams
1. Bishop Carroll
It is the same situation as the girls race. Carroll has the better top end talent with Thor and Kissling and that strength pulls them in a big field. The only potential downfall to this team is the youth. Four of the top seven runners are freshmen getting their first taste of state.

2. St. Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas is a more veteran team with five of its top six from the regional meet being upperclassmen. I am not sure what happened to its seventh runner at the regional meet, but if Aquinas is only able to go six deep at state then that will hinder them. Overall this race is going to be great to watch.

3. McPherson
This spot was either Hutchinson or McPherson. Both teams have been running well. Both teams have each won head-to-head battles. They are very similar from one to five as well. Porter and Sprague virtually cancel each other out in this race and it goes down to the two through five runners. McPherson has a better two through four in my opinion with Morgan Peterson, Caleb Porter and Nikolous Rempe. The five runner will be the difference maker. If the gap between four and five does not get smaller than this race gets a little dicey for McPherson. Problems like a large gap time get exposed in a big meet like state.

As always leave a comment or contact me at with your thoughts and opinions on the state XC meets.

Lake Afton dam proves challenging

I visited Lake Afton for the first time Saturday, when I covered the Class 4A and 5A cross country regional at that location.

The most challenging part of the course is near the end, where runners must climb the dam, race across and make their way back down toward the finish line. I overheard someone refer to it as “the dam(n) hill” Saturday.

Although Bishop Carroll’s first-place finisher in the girls’ 5A race, Kaelyn Balch, didn’t seem to be slowed much by the dam, the freshman described it as “one of the toughest things on the course.”

“I just wanted to finish then,” she said. “I was, like, really tired.”

She agreed that part of the difficulty stems from the dam’s location near the end of the race. However, the Hutchinson boys’ 5A winner – senior Cameron Sprague - wasn’t intimidated by the hill.

“I don’t really think it’s that bad,” he remarked.

Sprague added that it would be worse to climb the dam at the beginning of the race. At the end, runners have to kick and that requires a different energy system, he explained. Plus, he figures athletes who take on the dam benefit from the adrenaline rush that occurs as a race winds down.

Tennis world will miss John Markham

Funeral services were held Monday for John Markham, Goddard’s tennis coach who died Oct. 22. He was a longtime coach and a fixture at Goddard tournaments. I remember talking to him at this fall’s Goddard Invitational, and I photographed him (above) as he instructed the Goddard doubles team of Ellie Dunn and Brooklynn Dossey during a break in action.

John led the Goddard boys to Class 5A state titles in 2001 and 2002. His son, Kyle Markham, earned the 5A singles title in 2001.

The Kansas Tennis Coaches Association named John the boys’ coach of the year (overall) in 2003 and Class 6A boys’ coach of the year in 2006. In addition, the Kansas Coaches Association honored him as boys’ coach of the year in 2003 and 2008.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

6A State XC Preview/Predictions

Class 6A XC State Meet Preview

It is time again for my third annual complete state meet preview/predictions. As always I will pick who I think will be the top three teams and the top five individuals. I will kick it off with 6A and check back later for the other classes.Top Five Girls Individuals

1. Avery Clifton – Washburn Rural
Nobody is close to this girl in 6A, or the state. She can drop 14:30 like it is nothing. Washburn Rural does not dodge anyone and Clifton has beat all comers this season including Kaelyn Balch of Carroll and the entire field at Rim Rock. She not only wins state, but wins by at least 20 seconds.

2. Danielle Walker – Maize
Walker has a rare blend of speed and endurance not seen very often. She was third last season at the state meet. The Maize harrier is a solid and consistent runner. She does not have the ability of Clifton to bust a sub-14, but I like her ability to sit and kick. I think she edges the next runner on this list by just a hair. Her 15:28 at the Dodge City Regional is impressive considering what I have heard about that course (everyone says it is an absolute bear).

3.Emily Hornbeck – Derby
Hornbeck really busted out at the El Dorado Invitational with a time of 14:42 and a third place finish. She then went head-to-head with Walker at their league meet and was outkicked, but still turned in a sub-15 performance. She was beat by her teammate Green at the regional meet, but once again, you cannot put too much stock in regional times.

4. Lisa Imgrund – Shawnee Mission Northwest
She has not thrown down any amazing times from what I have seen, but she won the Sunflower League championship and the regional championship. Imgrund also finished fourth last season.

5. Amber Green – Derby
She will work well with her teammate through most of the race, but Hornbeck just has another gear right now.

Top Three Teams

1. Olathe East
At the Topeka Seaman Invitational Olathe East had no trouble with Topeka Washburn Rural and won easily. Olathe East pulled out a victory at the Sunflower League Championships and added a regional championship on Saturday. The big weakness of this team is the fifth runner that is a little separated from the front four. A flaw like that can be exposed in a large field.

2. Topeka Washburn Rural
The Junior Blues handled Derby at the regional meet by enough to convince me that is just cannot be written off as a regional thing. Derby won the matchup at the Rim Rock Classic, but Washburn Rural had the better average time. The strength of the Junior Blues, besides the obvious asset of the champ, is its pack from two through six. At the Centennial League meet the gap time between number two and six was only 10 seconds. That is a ridiculously solid pack.

3. Derby
Yes, Goddard beat Derby at the league meet, but Derby still had a slightly better overall time. In a big field the low numbers that Hornbeck and Green are throwing down will offset the Goddard pack. As I have said many times, I respect what Derby pulls off at the end of the season. The Panthers were third behind Washburn Rural and Manhattan at the regional meet, but Hornbeck also did not run to her potential.

Top Five Boys Individuals:

1. Roy Wedge – Lawrence

Wedge has only lost twice this year and once was to an out of state runner at the Rim Rock Classic. He went 15:58 that weekend at Rim Rock. At league he ran 15:41 to be the champion of the toughest league in the state. He was the regional champion and there is no doubt that he gets his individual title on his home course. Last season he finished second to Campus’ Brayden Barrientez.

2. Aaron Pope – Topeka Washburn Rural
Pope impressed me a lot back at the Southeast Invitational in mid-September. He ran up against tough competition and had no problem. He beat a very good Cameron Sprague of Hutchinson (who has been within a second of Adam Porter of McPherson twice). He is a dedicated runner and a smart runner. He took second to Neil Metler of Derby at the regional meet, but in my opinion he was saving it for state. His team is one of the top in the state so there was no reason to go all out. He also had a weak showing at league, but is clearly getting back into the swing of things.

3. Logan Sloan – Lawrence Free State
I tried to talk myself out of putting Sloan here, but I just like what the kid has done too much. He started the season off with a big win over Roy Wedge. He is a dark horse in the mold of Barrientez from last year. Sloan has been near the top every time he races a big race, but just hasn’t quite won the big championship. His big race experience gives him an edge. Sloan has gone 16:20 and 16:08 the two times he raced at Rim Rock. Running at home in his senior season is another plus. He finished eighth at the Free State Regional meet, but I like him to bounce back.

4. Andrew Stevens – Shawnee Mission South
Stevens, eighth at state last year as a junior, was a regional champion this year with a time of 16:10. He was second in the vaunted Sunflower League and was not pushed too hard in his regional meet.

5. Neil Metler – Derby
Derby runners have a habit of peaking at the right time. Jake Wike did it through the latter stages of his high school career. The Derby girls did it last year as they pulled a surprise upset and won the 6A girls title last year. Metler has been on the outside looking in against some of the top competition in the Wichita area, but a regional championship has to give him some confidence. He does have marquee finishes this year with his biggest being a second place finish at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree in early October.

Top Three Teams
1. Lawrence
The Lawrence boys will have no trouble claiming their second consecutive state title. Their one big push from a 6A team came at the Emporia meet where the two teams tied. Lawrence was without its complete varsity that day though. Lawrence won the Sunflower League, Regional and will also get state.

2. Topeka Washburn Rural
The race for second through fourth is going to be very good. I love the state experience Washburn Rural brings to the table with a 1-2-3 punch of Pope, Jacob Morgan and Alex Mahaffey. Pope and Morgan were both top 20 at 6A state last year.

3. Shawnee Mission Northwest
This spot could just as easily have gone to Shawnee Mission South, but I will give the edge to the reputation. Shawnee Mission Northwest is not what I once was, but the program is still strong with experienced runners. This team was third at its league meet and second to Lawrence at the regional meet.

What do you guys think? Did I miss anybody? Let me know by leaving a comment or e-mailing me at Keep checking back for the other classes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

XC Regionals: The importance of third

I love state cross country. Every runner leaves it on the course from first place to last place. The same cannot be said for the regional cross country meets that will be taking place this Saturday.

Cross Country regionals are much different than any head-to-head sports regional. In the head-to-head sport it is a win or go home mentality for every game. Every team has its back against the wall at all times. Cross Country is only about 75-percent that mentality.

For the other 25-percent regionals are a formality. The Adam Porters and Molly Milbourns of the state know they are going to state. They won’t phone in the race (as Porter and Hays’ Josh Munsch proved at last year’s regional meet), but many top runners will not turn in their best performances of the season. The same can be said for the teams like the Lawrence boys and Mulvane boys; teams that do not lose very often (if at all).

Coaches will not peak these runners for a week. They do not want an earth shattering performance at the regional meet. Teams like Bishop Carroll girls could run without their top runner and be no worse for the wear at regionals.

The best races on regional day mostly come from the race for fifth place to tenth place and from the teams that are fighting for that third team spot. These are the runners who are peaking. For all intents and purposes regionals are these runners’ state meet.

It is what makes cross country different from the head-to-head sports. How often is the third place game of a basketball tournament more intense and hard fought than the battle for the championship? Never.

My junior year our team was battling for one of those third place finishes at home. The top team was a foregone conclusion all week long. The winning team was happy, but it was nothing compared to the emotions felt by the third through fifth place teams. As the team places were announced the fifth place team was announced with 101 points. Then the fourth place team, my team was announced with 101 as well (we won on a tiebreaker). Then the third place team was announced with 99 points. Never had fourth place hurt so much. And never had I seen a team happier to be number three.

It was the same story my senior year, only this time we won the third place trophy. I had never been so proud to say “We’re number three! We’re number three!”

So the moral of this story is that if you are at a regional meet this Saturday, pay attention to that battle for the final state berth. Those teams on the bubble like Wichita East boys and the Derby boys at Cessna Activities Center. The best team race will likely come out of the Bishop Carroll 4A regional. Four teams are in contention for that final spot and it could easily come down to one point. Those runners is fifth through 10th place sprinting down the homestretch like their season depends on it (because it does).

Don’t completely count out the importance of winning an individual title at a regional meet. Of the 24 individual state champions in the last two years, 22 of them were individual regional champions as well. The two exceptions came last season with eventual girls 6A Avery Clifton of Washburn Rural and Herington’s Jason Martin who won class 3A. Both runners were regional runners-up.

What's with the weather?

One thing I will never get use to is the Southwest Kansas wind. A person could get blown over walking from their car to the door.

How does the weather change so drastically? (I guess that 's a question for Merril, not the viewers.)

I was just at the 6A state golf tournament Monday. It was 80 degrees and sunny outside. In fact, it was so hot I was wearing pants and had to change into shorts because after walking the course about six times I was sweating profusely. (It was pretty gross. I looked like I had just finished working out as apposed to being out working.)

After all the rain yesterday...we'll I guess it was in the midst of the rain yesterday.... Football teams out west had to practice inside. Cleats on a gym floor, not so great. Dodge City's team practiced in a barn. So instead of being knee deep in mud, they were knee deep in cow... well you know.

So I look out the window today and see what appears to be snow... In October, and of course MORE WIND. It makes for a grim day of shooting pregame previews, and an even grimmer day for the players.

Wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Who will it be??

The name everyone was chasing last season was Marshall Musil. The stud from LaCrosse was regarded as the best small school recruit in Kansas last season, signed with the Sooners.

But who is it going to be this season? Who is the best football recruit from the small schools in 2009?

A lot of eyes are on Saint Francis' Trent Raile. An athlete who could play anything, the running back has been contacted by the Wildcats, Colorado State University and JUCO power Butler. The Indians are having a down year by their standards but Raile is still chugging along.

A little premature but college recruiters were finding their way to Norton County for Terrell Lane. Only a junior, the 5'11" 210 running back racked up 1,500 yards and over 20 touchdowns as a sophomore, and has attracted Division 1 attention. He has been hampered by a knee injury this season, but a decent season and some rest should lead to a big senior year. Fortunately, unfortunately we have to wait.

And the biggest name happens to be on the smallest of the players. Colt Rogers of Smith Center might be a pint-sized player but he packs a serious punch. Opposing defenses scoff at his size but ask them if they were able to bring him down when he bounces off tackle? Rogers wants to follow in the footsteps of his Jayhawks running back father, Mike Rogers, but standing at 5'4" and only 130 pounds, Mark Mangino might be looking elsewhere, but he has garnered attention from Pitt State and Fort Hays too.

But Rogers will likely land on the mat. He's a 3-time state wrestling champion and has been contacted by the Naval Academy and even the University of Virginia for wrestling. From Smith Center, Kansas to Charlottesville, Virginia - eat your heart out Mark Simoneau.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Soccer upsets punctuate end of regular season

Regional assignments for boys soccer will be determined Saturday, but the last couple weeks of regular-season play have featured a few upsets.

The biggest upset involving an area team occurred Oct. 15, when Dodge City handed Maize its first loss. Maize fell 2-1 on its home field. Also Oct. 15, Wichita East dealt Liberal a blow after the Redskins had won eight consecutive games. The dropped game (score: 1-0) in the North Cup resulted in their second loss; Liberal is now 12-2 overall.

East has been a bit of a giant-killer lately. The Aces hosted 12-2 Dodge City on Monday and sent the Red Demons home with a 12-3 record. Dodge City led 1-0 at halftime, but Jorge Rodriguez picked up two goals for East in the second half – including the game winner with 10 seconds left.

East is now 12-4 on the season. Despite the Aces’ success, they couldn’t pull off a City League title. That went to Wichita Southeast, which completed its league schedule undefeated. The Buffs had a bumpy start this season, but then again, two of their first five games were against Washburn Rural and Liberal. According to Kansas soccer coaches, Washburn Rural is the top-ranked team in Class 6A while Liberal is No. 5 in 5A.

Southeast, 11-4 overall, will complete its regular season Thursday against Goddard. The Buffs were involved in the other Oct. 15 upset when they edged Hutchinson 2-1. The Salthawks, now 12-3-1, are ranked No. 4 in 5A.

Maize is probably the toughest local 6A team, although East, Southeast and Dodge City are dangerous. Dodge City’s three losses were to Hutchinson, Liberal and East – a trio of respectable squads. The Western Athletic Conference will end its soccer competition with an exciting showdown since Dodge City and Liberal will face off Thursday on the Redskins’ home field. Liberal defeated Dodge 2-1 in the teams’ Sept. 15 battle, so the rematch should prove interesting.

Let the sub-states begin!

Post-season play is in full swing, seemingly before the regular season even started. Both girls golf and tennis have already crowned state champions, while on the gridiron, football teams are either locking up playoff spots, or fighting to stay alive in the second week of districts.

But as the football players struggle to drag their bruises out of bed on Saturday, there will be Wichita-area sub-state volleyball tournaments continuing the hits on through the weekend.

In the 6A Derby regional, three of the eight teams have their names on the last Kansas Volleyball Association rankings of the year. Only two teams will make it to the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.

Defending state champion Topeka-Washburn Rural, is sitting at the top of the rankings headed to Derby, but will have its work cut out making it back to Topeka, let alone the state championship game.

On top of the list of teams trying to dethrone the champs in Derby will be No. 3 Manhattan. Until this Wednesday, the Indians were the top team in the state, giving this sub-state two teams ranked No. 1 within a week of each other.

While both Washburn Rural and Manhattan are the favorites to make it out of Derby, there are a few teams capable of upsetting the balance.

Wichita Heights, a fourth place finisher at state last year, has had another strong year at 28-7, and is in the others mentioned section of the rankings.

The host Derby Panthers nearly pulled an upset over Heights in the Falcons’ gym for a trip to state last year. The Panthers are having another strong year, and playing at home could energize them enough to make a strong run through sub-state.

In Haysville, the Campus sub-state features some of last year’s state qualifiers as well. Goddard, mentioned in the rankings, was a third place finisher at state last year after a dominating win over Wichita Heights.

Dodge City is another team mentioned in the rankings, playing in the Campus sub-state. The Red Demons made it to state last year, but couldn’t make it out of pool play. The road for redemption for Dodge City begins in Haysville.

In 5A, Bishop Carroll will set the stage for a battle between four of the best teams in the state. Undefeated No. 3 Andover Central and the No. 5 host Golden Eagles who finished fourth at state last year, will be the favorites.

But don’t count out Salina South or Newton. South, a state qualifier last year, has put together another strong season at 26-10, while Newton is cruising at 31-9. Either one (or both) of these teams could shock the powerhouses in the sub-state to punch a ticket.

Carroll's Holy War rival Kapaun Mt. Carmel will also be in this tournament. Carroll and Kapaun have played close all year. If they meet again, the stakes will be enormous.

In 4A, head coach Bryan Otte has had no problems making the transition from 2A Moundridge, to Valley Center. A qualifier for the 5A state tournament last year, the Hornets are ranked No. 4 in 4A this year and host a sub-state tournament.

Otte picked up his 400th career win this year, and will have to go through last year’s third place finisher, Clearwater, to make another trip to a state tournament.

No. 2 Abilene will have to travel to Russell to play for a trip to state, while No. 5 Cheney will host a sub-state.

In 3A, defending champion Garden Plain will have a mountain to climb to make it back to the state tournament, hosting No. 1 Wichita Collegiate. Collegiate has been on top of the rankings since the first week, and has only suffered one loss this year, coming at the hands of the preseason No. 1 Hillsboro.

The Spartans and Trojans will look for a rematch on the highest stage, with Hillsboro trying to make it out of the Sedgwick sub-state.

2A power Moundridge will host a big regional this year. Over the past four years, the Wildcats have two third place finishes, a runner up, and a championship. Moundridge has kept its mortal enemy, Inman, under its thumb during its run.

But this year the Teutons have a No. 3 ranking at 30-6 on the year. After years of playing second fiddle to the Wildcats, Inman would love nothing more than to travel to Moundridge to knock its rival out of the running in their own barn.

Saturday is do-or-die time for Kansas volleyball teams. Playing without a safety net means anything can happen. Who do you think will be state qualifiers after the weekend?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why I still love High School Football

Whenever I tell someone what I do for a living they always think it's one of the coolest jobs in the world (I'm not gonna lie, it truly is). However, after they ask me about all the professional and college sports I get to cover they always ask the same question: "So, do you like have to cover high school sports too? That must suck." It's always said in the same tone too, like they feel sorry for me for having to cover high school teams. My answer is always the same too: "Yes, I love covering high school sports. They're one of the only pure forms of competition we still have left."

Nothing proves my point more than the game I got to cover last Friday. I was fortunate enough to see Conway Springs vs. Garden Plain in Garden Plain last year and this year I got to see it in Conway Springs. There's no comparing the two sights because it's equally impressive in both towns. Everyone turns out to see the game even if they don't have a kid on the team. It's a rivalry that's one of the best in the state. And this year the game provided even more fuel for the never ending fire.

It was right before the half, I'm talking seconds here, and Garden Plain was about to score. The Cardinals were up 13-0 and it was a perfect shot for the Owls to get a little momentum before halftime. Brandon Eck got the handoff, he powered forward and leapt with his hand outstretched to get the ball into the end zone. I was standing right by the goal line watching the play unfold through my camera lens. I was all set to mark it as a touchdown in my footage, until the referees came in and said Eck's knee was down before the ball crossed the plane. There wasn't enough time for a final play and Conway Springs took a 13-0 lead into the locker rooms.

Now I don't want to take anything away from the Cardinals' defense because put up a heck of an effort on the stop, but when we took another look at the footage in slow motion it's very clear that Eck scored on that play. So, if the ref calls it a touchdown, the score would be 13-7 at the half and suddenly it's a whole different ball game. There was no protest from the Garden Plain sideline because there's no way Todd Puetz could've seen the play, it was blocked by the rest of the players. Garden Plain went on to lose the game because of an outstanding defensive effort from Conway Springs, but you can't help but wonder how the second half would've gone if Eck's play had been ruled a touchdown.

If that play had been in a collge or professional game there's not a doubt in my mind it would've been reviewed and Garden Plain would've gotten the call overturned. But as it is the call stands because there is no such thing as review in high school. And that is why I love college sports. Plays like that only make the rivalry more intense, puts more pressure on the teams to play better because there are no second chances on how the refs make the call.

I think we spend way too much time trying to make college and pro games perfect, put them in a vacuum so to speak. But isn't that vacuum so boring? That play by Eck is going to fester in the minds of the Owls for a while. It's going to make the Conway players realize just how lucky they were to win that game. It's going to come back and be a big factor in the rematch that will more than likely happen when the playoffs come around. Can you imagine how heated the next game will be between these two teams? I can and I absolutely want to be there to see what happens.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Good matchups abounded this week

This week featured a variety of good matchups in fall sports. Perhaps no result was more surprising than Wichita Heights’ ousting of Bishop Carroll in volleyball action Thursday night. Carroll was undefeated in the City League and resting comfortably atop the league standings, but Heights upset the Eagles 25-22, 25-23 on the Falcons’ home court.

In area boys soccer matchups, undefeated Maize beat Hutchinson 3-1 when it hosted the Salthawks, who are now 10-2-1 overall. According to Kansas soccer coaches, Maize is ranked No. 3 in Class 6A while Hutchinson is No. 3 in 5A.

In another soccer showdown, Wichita Trinity took on Rose Hill, the No. 3-ranked team in 4-1A. Trinity recently had knocked off the top-ranked team, Berean Academy, which has since fallen to No. 4. However, the Rockets topped Trinity 2-1 on Tuesday.

Liberal, ranked No. 4 in 5A, continues its march through the regular season. The Redskins are 9-1 overall. Their only dropped game was in the Titan Classic championship, when they fell to Maize. Liberal will revisit Wichita next week for the North Cup, which starts Tuesday, Oct. 13. Liberal is the defending North Cup champion since it beat Wichita East for the title last year.

Tennis and golf seasons are winding down. Several league golf tournaments took place this week, including the City League championship on Tuesday at Tex Consolver. Shortly after the No. 1 group teed off at Hole 16, a trio of deer darted out in front of the tee box. (See them in the photo above.)

Bishop Carroll golfer Madison Murphy successfully defended her individual league championship, and Kapaun Mt. Carmel repeated as team champ. Kapaun also won another league tennis crown.

The competition was fierce for the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League tennis title in Division I this week. Maize is ranked No. 4 in Class 6A while Salina Central is No. 2 in Class 5A, according to Kansas tennis coaches. The two schools were tied with 39 team points at the end of the day, but Maize eked out a victory over Salina Central.

Regional tennis competition was set to conclude Saturday, Oct. 10, although some tournaments have been postponed until Monday due to cold weather. Most regional golf tournaments also are slated for Monday, although a few will be held Tuesday.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cross Country Late Season Thoughts

Well we are about to hit the postseason portion of the cross country schedule with League, Regionals and State quickly approaching, so I thought it would be a good time for some random observations from the first part of the year. Here are some things I have noticed in no particular order.

- I continue to be impressed by the Derby XC program. Neil Metler has stepped up and ran a crazy good time at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree. He went 15:53 on the OSU course to take second place in his race of 218 runners. Metler had the second fastest time out of 556 varsity runners to step on the course. Not bad at all on a course that is one of the best true cross country courses in the Midwest. This kid is just getting better as the season goes on. I don’t think he can take down Lawrence’s Roy Wedge, but he I like his chances of cracking the top seven at state.

-The Derby girls, led by Amber Green and Emily Hornbeck, looked poised to repeat as 6A team state champions. Some of the team results have been a little off, but the times are still there on similar courses. Here is a breakdown comparing last year’s state championship team to this year’s team:

o Carroll Invite – 2008 Average = 17:13 2009 Average = 16:45
o Hesston Invite – 2008 Average = 16:22 2009 Average = 16:25
o Turner Invite – 2008 Average = 18:19 2009 Average = 18:00
o Rim Rock – 2008 Average = 17:00 2009 Average = 17:05
o OSU – 2008 Average = 12:09 2009 Average = 12:20

That is pretty solid consistency and in Derby’s recent history its runners just get better as a running season progresses (just look at Jake Wike and his end of the year performance at the state track meet)

-We are witnessing a pretty special year in girls distance running with Avery Clifton of Topeka Washburn Rural, Kaelyn Balch of Carroll and Mackenzie Maki of Kapaun. The Southeast Invitational was something special with Clifton’s 13:48 and Balch’s 14:01. They both beat the defending 5A state champion Maki by a margin. This prompted some “What’s wrong with Maki” questions. I am here to tell you there is nothing wrong with Maki. The Kapaun junior has shown remarkable improvement from this year to last year. Don’t believe me? Kapaun has run the same courses as last year to this point so it is easy to compare apples to apples. Take a look at Maki's times from last year to this year:

o Carroll – 2008 Time – 15:46 2009 Time: 14:49
o Hesston – 2008 Time: 15:16 2009 Time: 14:48
o Southeast – 2008 Time – 15:20 2009 Time: 14:48
o Rim Rock – 2008 Time – 16:25 2009 Time: 15:29
o OSU (2 Mile) – 2008 Time - 11:33 2009 Time: 11:16

The only difference is that Maki is not winning as often because of the Carroll super freshman Balch. Any other year her improvement would be huge news. I am looking forward to state to see Maki’s experience and ability battle Balch’s raw talent on the Rim Rock course. Don’t count the Kapaun harrier out yet. She didn’t run the 18th fastest 3200 in Kansas High School history last spring by accident.

-Moving on, the Mulvane Boys are good. There is not much else to be said about that juggernaut that has not already been said.

-Adam Porter is good as well, but he is not as untouchable in XC as he was in track last spring. Hutchinson’s Cameron Sprague was only seven seconds back of Porter at Newton last week. I would not be surprised to see Josh Munsch of Hays step up and give Porter a challenge as well. Munsch has beaten Sprague the two times they race, so this battle will be fun. The 5A state race will be interesting, but you still cannot bet against Porter.

- We will know a lot more after the El Dorado Meet on Saturday, but don’t be surprised if at the GWAL meet Wichita East sneaks up and surprises the Carroll juggernaut on the boys side. East is running solid, while Carroll has had issues with sickness.

- My quick picks for the Individual State titles in each class going into the post season. I will update these based on what league and regionals look like at a later time:

6A Boys – Roy Wedge of Lawrence – Last year’s 6A runner-up and he has done something not many have done in Kansas distance running in the past year; beat Adam Porter head-to-head. Logan Sloan of Lawrence Free State did edge him head-to-head early on in the season.
6A Girls – Avery Clifton of Topeka Washburn Rural – 13:48, enough said.

5A Boys – Adam Porter of McPherson – Really cannot bet against him at this point. It won’t be a blowout like the state track meet, but I think he pulls it out over Sprague and Munsch.
5A Girls – Kaelyn Balch of Bishop Carroll – Maki is still the champion, but Balch is in another stratosphere right now. If it turns into a kicker’s race then lookout for Maki. She has the top end speed to take Balch.

4A Boys – Riley Woodward of Wamego – It is his home course and he has done well all season long. His biggest challengers will be Evan Landes and Nikki Trooien-Smith of Mulvane and Tony Weiss of Baldwin. Woodward has seen the Mulvane boys twice and beat them twice.
4A Girls – Molly Milbourn of El Dorado – She really burst onto the distance running scene with her state championship last fall and this fall should be no different. At the Wamego Invitational she blew the field away. My dark horse would be Cheyenne Becker of Pratt. She is largely untested this year, but a talented runner.

3A Boys – Kayson Matthews of Lakin – Matthews was 31st at state last season, but the kid has been money all season long so far. He has consistently run sub-17, which would have been good enough to win last year.
3A Girls – Heather Ruder of Thomas More Prep – There is good running tradition at TMP and Ruder is another in that line. Her one big loss this year was to Cheyenne Becker of Pratt. Ruder has thrown down times comparable to 5A All-Stater Rubi Torres of Great Bend. Ruder ran 14 seconds better Torres at the Hays Invitational

2A Boys – Jimmy Phitts of Repbulic County – This class is wide open. Cory Keehn of Jackson Heights is back as is the 3200 champion of Stanton County Eric Ruth. Phitts has had a solid season and appears to have really learned how to win this season.
2A Girls – Jillian Stratman of Bennington – If Katelyn Henderson of Olpe is 100-percnt healthy; I still like her to win. Henderson has not shown up in results recently making me question if something is wrong. Stratman has had a great season and there is no reason she cannot win the title if Henderson is not at 100-percent.

1A Boys – Colton McNinch of Ness City – He threw down with the big boys at the Rim Rock Invitational and held his own. He was 22nd out of 207 in the Gold Race with a 16:47 on a challenging course. He also beat Cameron Sprague head-to-head early in the season.
1A Girls – Naomi Reeh of Cheylin – There are a ton of returners in this class including the champion from last year Rachel Renken of Lakeside. Reeh is the defending 3200-meter state champion. She beat Renken head-to-head at Hill City by 20 seconds. Kerra Cissnne of Lincoln is another to watch out for.

Well there you have it with my rather long ramblings. Like it? Hate it? Have something to add? Am I leaving out an athlete who is lighting it up on this XC courses this season? (this is extremely possible just due to the huge scope of XC) Let me know by commenting or e-mailing me at

Friday, October 2, 2009

Heavy Hearts

When you are thinking about your favorite team Friday night and maybe about the hardships that your team might be going through, give a special thought or two to some programs in Western Kansas.

Hays' coach Ryan Cornelsen wasn't sure if he was going to make it to any of this season's games for the Indians. He thought he would be in a Kansas City hospital with his newborn son wondering what was wrong with him.

Cooper Cornelsen's liver wasn't working right but the specialists in KC didn't diagnose the problem early on, and then when they did, they couldn't figure out what was wrong. Simple fact is little Cooper's liver isn't working right but he is home now and doing fine.

You could see the stress on Ryan's face at practice. I joked with him that it looks like his razor broke but he sheepishly smiled back that his razor works fine, just hasn't found time.

Someone's prayers were answered with Cooper and the Cornelsen family, and the Indians are off to their first 4-0 start in almost a decade.

Further west in the tiniest of towns, Quinter is one of the top teams in 8-Man Division I but forgive the players if their minds aren't completely focused on their game with Thunder Ridge.

Quinter coach Greg Woolf thought he had a stomach flu a few weeks back and had to go see the doctor. Doctor ran some tests and sent him to Hays to the hospital. Woolf returned to Quinter with some bad news.

Cancer. He hid the fact from his team during that week of practice before their game with Palco and when the Bulldogs destroyed the Roosters, 50-0, Woolf couldn't fight back the emotion.

The team handed him the game ball with all their signatures on it.

Woolf hasn't coached much since then, handing over the reigns to his assistant coaches. He travels to Omaha for chemo treatment next week.

Winning takes on a completely different meaning when you are fighting for more than a game.