By BRETT MARSHALL
SYRACUSE — On a perfect fall day, Wichita County's Paige Wells and Elkhart's Seph Iman ran near-perfect races.
And with those efforts, came individual titles at the Hi-Plains League cross country meet run over the Tamarisk Golf Course.
Wells' title was not unexpected as the Wichita County sophomore has come back from early season health problems and has now won two of three meets in which she has competed.
It is no surprise coming from the runner who finished second as a freshman in the Class 2A state cross country meet in 2009 at Wamego.
"I wanted to go out and run my best," said Wells, who defeated runner-up Gentry Hibbard of Sublette by 46 seconds in the 4-kilometer (2.5 mile) race. "I was ready for this race mentally. I've just felt a lot stronger lately and today was just a great day to run."
For Elkhart's Iman, the victory was not nearly as assured, with Meade's Cole Gardiner and Gunner Cordes, and Wichita County's Joshua Mehl, also among the pre-meet favorites. But Iman took the lead just past the mile marker from Gardiner and never relinquished it and eventually pulled away to win by four seconds.
"I was nervous before the race," Iman said. "The distance between Cole and me is usually not very much, but I was pretty surprised when I was able to get out to a small lead and keep it."
For Wells, who took the lead from Hibbard for good just prior to the first mile mark, the victory continued her late-season run which is similar to what she did a year ago as a freshman.
Last year, Wells had not won an individual title until she captured the 2A regional title and came up with her second-place finish at state.
"I think I just enjoy the meets at the end of the season because they mean so much more," Wells said. "The others are for getting ready for the end of the season, like league, regionals and state. I'm very excited for those."
Wells' time of 15:01.0 for the race was nine seconds slower than she ran 12 days earlier at the Syracuse Invitational when she finished second to Greeley County's Kennedy Schneider. She followed that performance with a victory at last Saturday's Lakin Invitational. But the unusually warm October day (82 degrees) made Thursday's race just a little tougher.
"I don't like to run in the heat and there was no wind today," Wells said. "Gentry usually starts out at the front and I try not to start out too fast. But it was a beautiful day to run and I'm just happy to be out here."
Wells said her coach, Shad Mehl, has told her to just go out, relax and enjoy the moment.
"No pressure, no expectations, no big deal, no regrets," Wells said. "It's a lot of fun to be able to run that way."
For Iman, the race was down to a battle with Meade's Gardiner. The two broke free from the pack just past the half-mile mark and by the mile marker, the two were 40 to 50 yards in front and running shoulder to shoulder. Iman then made what he said was his first tactical move by just slightly increasing the pace.
"I was pretty surprised that Cole didn't come with me when I did that," Iman, a junior, said. "I beat him once (at Hugoton) and he beat me once (at South Gray), so this really means a lot. I'm a lot stronger now than I was and it helped because it was definitely hot out there."
Iman's winning time of 16:35 was four seconds faster than Gardiner and it was another 29 seconds to Mehl, who finished in 17:08.
In the team competition, Wichita County took the title with 30 points to Meade's 55 and it was Meade's boys claiming the title with 39 points and Stanton County was next with 47.
Next up for area cross country runners will be regionals on Oct. 23. Lakin and Southwestern Heights are at Larned in Class 3A; Cimarron, Elkhart, Meade, Stanton County, Sublette and Syracuse are at Meade in Class 2A while Wichita County is at Oberlin, also in 2A.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.