By BRETT MARSHALL
LAKIN — It was a near-perfect weather day for the Lakin Cross Country Invitational on Saturday morning at Louck's Municipal Golf Course, and it was a freshman from Stanton County — Rebeca Avelar — who captured the top spot over the 4-kilometer layout that also paved the way for the Lady Trojans to narrowly edge Boise City, Okla. (76 to 78) for the team title.
It was nearly as close on the boys side in the team chase as Ulysses finished with 54 points to Hugoton's 59 while Ness City's Dray Carson outdueled Hugoton's Isaac Castro for the boys individual title.
For Avelar, the latest prodigy for the coach Mike Horton's tradition-rich program, it was another strong performance as she finished eight seconds ahead (16:16 to 16:24) over Ulysses standout Chisholm Branscum.
"Last week (Syracuse Invitational) I was sick and I came back and felt really good running here," said Avelar, who has been mentored this season by junior Jenna Black, who enjoyed the same success two seasons ago before a bout with mononucleosis knocked her out of much of the final part of the 2011 season. "I looked up to Jenna a lot when I was in middle school. I always wanted to be like her and now she's been getting me up there, too. She tells me to just stay up in the group and do my best."
Avelar said she and Branscum separated themselves from the field at about the mile mark, and from there she tried to utilize her downhill running strategy to her advantage.
"Coach just tells me to run down the hill as fast as I can and get ahead," Avelar said. "The speed and surges help you get that gap with the other runners."
With the Hi-Plains League meet on the near horizon on their home layout in Johnson, Avelar and her teammates also have their sights set on the Oct. 26 Class 2A regional at Meade with the goal of making it to the Class 2A state meet in Wamego on Nov. 2.
"We have a really good team, and I think we have a good chance of getting to state," Avelar said.
The remainder of the top five included Jessie Rubottom of Ness City (16:44), Black of Stanton County (16:52) and Autumn Mizer of Boise City (17:09).
On the boys side, while Castro didn't garner the No. 1 finish, he nonetheless was happy with his performance.
"It's not a boring course," Castro said of his 16:56 time compared to Carson's 16:41 mark over the 5-kilometer layout. "You go up and down. About the mile mark he separated and picked up the pace and I just couldn't keep up with him."
Castro, a sophomore, has been pleased with the way his season has progressed.
"I've been doing pretty good and the team's getting better," Castro said. "I beat my p.r. (personal record) today. I'm really looking forward to regionals and hopefully qualify for state (also at Wamego for Class 4A)."
Rounding out the top five individuals for the boys event were Israel Barco of Elkhart (17:12), Josh Mehl of Wichita County (17:13) and Luke Skinner of South Gray (17:28).
There were eight girls and nine boys teams competing.