By BRETT MARSHALL
Kansas' state song, "Home on the Range," dates back to 1876, when Dr. Brewster Higley constructed the lyrics in Smith County in the north central portion of the state.
On Thursday, the Garden City High School Lady Buffaloes cross country team took those lyrics and made them ring ever so loudly, and ever so true .
"Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day."
The Lady Buffs roamed over the Buffalo Dunes Golf Course en route to defending their Western Athletic Conference cross country championship, with juniors Alex Miller, Kayla Doll and Chelsea Jackson leading a 1-2-3 individual finish as the host team produced a stellar 19 points, winning convincingly over Great Bend, which placed a distant second with 67 points.
Garden's girls, in repeating their 2011 title won in Dodge City, also got top-10 performances from Katy Doll (5th, 17:05.7), Maria Rodriguez (8th, 17:20.7) and Neysa Harman (10th, 17:29.0). Savannah Peters rounded out the girls' stellar performance by placing 15th (18:09.4) in the field of 33 runners.
On the boys side, Garden City got a solid "pack" performance from its 2 through 5 runners and finished in a solid third place with 67 points. Favored Dodge City easily won with 33 points and Liberal was second with 61 points. Great Bend was well back in fourth place with 91 points. Senior Jacob Thomas had the Buffs' lone top-10 effort, taking ninth on the demanding, hilly Dunes course.
There were no discouraging words for the Lady Buffs, and the sky was not cloudy all day. In fact, a sun-splashed late afternoon greeted the runners, along with a steady northeasterly wind of 15-20 mph and temperatures comfortably in the low 70s.
For Miller, it was again a strong finish that carried her to a winning time of 16:01.3, finishing ahead of her junior teammates Doll (16:11.7) and Jackson (16:19.0). Running at home for the first time in their high school career added to the joy of repeating as WAC champs.
"I just feel more excited for the team than anything I did today," Miller said. "We had an incredible race today and we all just pushed each other. Running here was amazing, the experience of having so many people come out here and support us was really exciting."
Dodge City's Jasmine Duarte took the early lead as the race headed out from the 10th tee at Buffalo Dunes and wound its way around the entire back nine with plenty of up and down hills creating a challenge for the runners.
"We always expect a couple of girls to go out fast," Kayla Doll said. "It's good we have each other, because if I didn't have Alex and Chelsea, I'd probably be going out too fast at the start. If not for them, I'm not sure I'd be in control. I just always go out too fast in any race I run, whether its cross country or track. I'm just glad we had the opportunity to run here at home with everyone watching. It was really fun."
The three juniors were pretty much bunched together through the first two-thirds of the 2.5 mile (4-kilometer) race before breaking away from eventual fourth-place finisher Destyni Lucero of Liberal (16:46.9).
"We knew the course was hilly and that the times would be slow," Jackson said. "I think practicing out here and seeing what the course was like gave us confidence. We've had hard workouts and I think those prepared us for today. We knew the hill (on No. 17) would be a struggle, but it didn't seem as hard as practice, and I think it was just the adrenaline rush we had by competing."
Miller had a slender lead over her teammates coming up the hill and then coming off that test, broke ahead as they headed into the final half-mile of the race.
"I think we just always run for the team and not for ourselves," Miller said. "We know if we stay together, we're going to be in good shape. At the end, you just push yourself and then go for it with everything you've got left. You just run as hard as you can. But we know, individually, we won't get anywhere. It's about how we do as a team."
For the boys, Thomas' ninth place finish was a disappointment, as he was clocked in 17:59.3 for the 5-kilometer race, while Dodge City's Oscar Carmona breezed to a 19-second triumph with a time of 16:56.8.
"I felt a little tired today and I'm not sure exactly why," Thomas said. "I've been running fourth and fifth with these guys all season, so I'm a little disappointed. I felt prepared, but it just wasn't there today. I thought I did a little better in the middle of the race, but really it wasn't very good for the most part. The crowd atmosphere was awesome and it was a great day to run, but I know I could have done better."
The packing that coach Krista Linenberger has been looking for was realized with the finish of Jalen Rowland, Aaron Peters, Cody Nagel, Heath Winkelman and Chris Resley who finished in 13th through 16th and 18th to solidify the team's third-place standing.
Junior varsity: The Buffs JV teams also fared well, both coming away with victories. The girls had a perfect scoring day, recording the top eight places en route to a 15-point effort. On the boys side, the Buffs edged Dodge City, 35-37.
Claudia Castro, a freshman, led the JV girls with a time of 18:39.9 while senior Dalton Skipton led the boys with a time of 19:00.0.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.