By MIKE KESSINGER
CIMARRON — In the days leading up to the Class 3A cross country regional Lakin High School senior Kayson Matthews didn't know if he would have a chance to run Saturday at the Cimarron Golf Club.
He had battled a severe cold and flu all week and had already missed the Hi-Plains League meet on Oct. 15. Matthews had not practiced until Thursday and even if he could run, he knew it wasn't a guarantee he'd be at his best. By the time the race started Saturday and Matthews jumped out to the lead in the first 400 meters, any problem involving being ill faded into the race. Matthews held the lead throughout and crossed the finish line in a time of 17:02.25.
"All week I've had a bad cough," Matthews said. "I was worried I wasn't going to make it to state, so it was all good. My nerves picked up and I just stayed with it. I just used my nerves to push me through the whole race."
Matthews was trailed closely all race by Michael Wolf, who led Holcomb's charge to a second straight regional team title as the Longhorns will return Saturday to Wamego to defend their Class 3A state title. With Wolf following him, Matthews used the incentive of wanting to make sure he wouldn't be beaten by his HPL rival runner.
"This is the first race he's been this close to me," Matthews said of Wolf. "He's been one of my main rivals. He beat me last year in the two mile (during the track and field season) and so it's been in the back of my mind. And, plus anyone from Holcomb, it really motivates me to go out strong."
Wolf paced the Longhorns to the team title with 55 points, which easily outdistanced them from runner-up Norton, who had 96. Sterling took the final team state spot with 98 points. Wolf's time of 17:05.73, was rewarding enough for the Holcomb senior as it was a faster time than a year ago when he placed sixth at regionals.
"There were parts of the race I could have gone a little faster and got that ground covered, but it's just a race," Wolf said. "It's not as important as state, but it's always fun to get up there and be in first."
The Longhorns' top five runners all finished in the top 20, giving them their huge advantage over the rest of the field. JaCee Jarnagin was Holcomb's second runner to finish, placing sixth in 17:37.48. Mitchell Gaede, Brendon Thomas and Brett Robinson finished 14th, 15th and 18th to round out the Longhorns' team score. The Holcomb runners' ability to stay in close proximity to each other has always been something of an advantage for them, Wolf said.
"Our team is not known for high placers but we're known for how close our one-to-five split is," he said. "We have one of the best one-to-five splits in 3A. It gives some leeway to the stress."
Holcomb's boys team wasn't the only part of Saturday the program enjoyed as Longhorn freshman Karissa Pena placed fifth in the girls race in a time of 16:50.22. Pena advancing to state marks the first time in four years Holcomb has sent a female to state, the last being Terra Keim. She will be joined by Lakin runners Julia Rosales (sixth) and Jaden Bolmer (11th). Neither Holcomb or Lakin had full teams on the girls side, leaving the runners from both teams to run individually and not for a team score.
"Right when I saw the welcome to Cimarron sign the butterflies just built up," Pena said of the team bus coming into Cimarron. "When I got off the bus I didn't know what to do. I was so nervous."
Ellinwood won the girls team title with 47 points, holding off Thomas More Prep-Marian, which had 59 and Norton with 61.
As a team, the Lakin boys placed 10th with 215 points. The Broncs would have had two runners qualify for state and been fifth in the team standings, but senior Kevin Siersema — who placed third — was disqualified after he came through the finish line.
"Apparently he said some things he shouldn't have said." Lakin coach Ron Overeem said. "It was overheard by meet officials. The meet officials took it to the games committee, and they decided it was unsportsmanlike conduct and he was disqualified from the race."
Overeem was a member of the games committee and had to be excused from the meeting as a Lakin runner was the subject of the matter.
"I'm not going to disagree with the games committee," Overeem said. "They had a difficult decision to make, but they felt the rules had to be followed and unfortunately it was one of my kids, so that's the way it goes.
"It's a shame. It's the end of his career at Lakin High School. He basically was progressing very, very well. I knew he was going to have a good race today, his workouts indicated that. But you know what, life teaches you a lot of lessons and the lesson was something he had to learn the hard way and hopefully he'll take this and it will make him a stronger person."
Southwestern Heights placed fourth in the team standings on the boys side with 128 points. The Mustangs will send two runners to state with Enrique Sanchez placing fourth — he ran a time of 17:25.37 — and Peter Wiebe placed 10th (18:03.24) .
At Saturday's state meet, the 3A competition will have the boys race at 11:30 a.m., and the girls will be at 12:30 p.m.