By BRETT MARSHALL
WAMEGO — While the Holcomb Longhorns boys cross country team saw their streak of Class 3A state championships end at two, coach Lindall Cox's youthful squad pulled off one of the most stunning finishes of the day on Saturday at the 2010 event by finishing second to Wichita-The Independent.
Surprising considering the Longhorns lost five runners from the 2009 state title team and only had one senior on the roster that ran at Wamego Country Club.
But with junior Brendan Thomas leading the way with a 17th place finish, the Longhorns totaled 122 points, 40 behind champion Independent's 82. Sterling and Prairie Village-KCC were right behind with 124 and 126 points. The distant finish for second didn't detract from the importance of the accomplishment.
"These kids work for this day all season," Cox said. "It's a big thing to come here and run against the best in the state and we emphasize this a lot to the kids. What happens during the season leads up to what we do today."
Put in perspective, the Longhorns were the third place team at last week's regional in Larned, just barely sneaking in ahead of Larned to advance to Wamego.
"While results are important, they're not our main focus during the year," Cox said.
For Thomas, Saturday's run was good enough for him to earn a Top 20 medal.
"It was very tiring when I hit the second mile," said Thomas who ran a 17:58.31 for the 5-kilometer race. "I felt completely out of it and I think I must have been about 30th. I just had to dig deep. The guys before me told me to dig deep for my heart and just run."
Winning the medal was espcially sweet for Thomas who ran a year ago after being plagued with the flu leading up to the state meet.
"I was pretty nervous today," Thomas said. "This is the big one."
Senior Nolan Gaede was 25th, sophomore Mike Banderas was 36th, freshman Tayler Chelemedos was 43rd and junior Chris Foreman was 51st to round out the finishers who scored for the Longhorns. Sophomore Caleb Stewart and junior John Salter were 68th and 69th, respectively.
Stanton County's boys placed second in Class 2A with 91 points to Ness City's winning total of 76.
Wichita County's girls were third with 94 points, finishing behind Ness City (47) and Ellinwood (57). Sophomore Paige Wells was the Indians' top runner, placing fourth (16:21.65) as she finished behind three runners making their 2A debut.
Champion Jenna Farris of Lincoln (1A), runner-up Jenna Snell (3A) of Ellinwood and Pratt-Skyline's Brooke Fisher (freshman) kept Wells from duplicating or improving on her runner-up finish a year ago.
"The second mile was slower than I would have liked and I just didn't go out and stay with them like I could have," Wells said. "It's a little disappointing. I'm sure not satisfied, but there are some great runners in this race and it's great to be able to run against them."
Farris, who beat Wells at the regionals in Oberlin the week before, ran in 1A a year ago and was a top performer at the spring state track and field meet. Snell was the 3A state champion in 2009 and had beaten Greeley County's Kennedy Schneider earlier in the season.
"The last part of the race I just went for everything," Wells said. "I just tried to kick to the finish. It was hotter than I expected and I do like running in cooler weather."
Hugoton's Heber Jimenez took fourth individually in Class 4A boys to pace the Eagles to a third-place team finish. His time of 16:50.33 was 42 seconds behind winner Evan Landes of Mulvane. Baldwin's Tony Weiss (16:35.44) and Wamego's Hudson Philip (16:46.00) were the other two to place ahead of the Eagles senior.
"The race felt pretty good, especially in the first half," Jimenez said. "The last mile I had to push a little more and I think I lost a place somewhere there. I was ranked fourth and that's where I finished, so I think it was a good race."
Jimenez said he started the race with a goal of keeping Landes in his sights.
"I looked to follow him and then take me into the lead," Jimenez said. "After the first mile he just took off. By that point I had gotten my pace so I just stayed with it and ran my best."
His sophomore teammate, Patrick Weaver, was not far behind, finishing in 17:06.98 for an 11th place effort.
Ingalls sophomore Slade Loewen also had a strong performance, finishing fourth in 17:49.23 to pace the Bulldogs to a seventh place team finish.
"(The race) went pretty good," Loewen said. "It came down to how many guys I had to get in the final part of the race. It was a crazy start with so many runners but I just tried to take one runner at a time and then just kill myself to run as fast as I could. This is a big surprise. I didn't think I had (fourth place) in me. Running last year definitely helped me be prepared for this kind of race."
In 2A girls, Sublette's Gentry Hibbard medaled with a 16th place finish (17:07.59). Stanton County's runner-up boys finish was led by sophomore Raul Pantoja's 17th place finish (18:03.61). Johnathan Carrasco was 21st (18:17.47), Bret Gum 29th (18:34.76), Cameron Carruth was 32nd (18:45.24) and Fabian Avelar was 48th (19:15.84).
"Our pack running (keeping the runners as close to each other as possible) has been and will be the key," Stanton County coach Mike Horton said prior to the race. "That will determine how well we do."
And it worked well, with Carruth's time just 1:38 slower than Pantoja's.
Lakin junior Jaden Bollmer earned a 20th place finish and a medal in Class 3A girls by running a 17:11.72.
"It felt better than any race I've run all year," Bollmer said afterward. "We had a re-start and that made things a little nervous. I think the first mile we went out faster and the second mile was not so great. The middle part of the race was my best and I was definitely trying to get up the hills faster and let the downhill just take me farther."
Ulysses' boys were sixth in Class 4A with 160 points and the top finisher for the Tigers was junior Israel Mendoza in 14th place (17:22.54). Wichita County's Johshua Mehl took ninth in Class 2A boys with a mark of 17:37.91.
Garden City High School's Jonny Bernasky finished 27th on Saturday in the Class 6A state cross country meet at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence.
The Buffaloes' senior runner had a time of 16:49 to improve on his 51st place finish of a year ago and his mark was 37 seconds faster than when he ran as a junior.
Freshman Chelsea Jackson ran a 16:32 for her 4-kilometer race and placed 33rd.
According to GCHS coach Krista Linenberger, another runner stepped on the right heel of Jackson just a quarter of a mile into the race, causing her to lose her shoe as well as losing a spike on her left shoe.
Jackson ran the remainder of the 2.5 mile race with just one shoe on.
"It was an amazing accomplishment and time considering she only ran with one shoe," Linenberger said of Jackson. "She's a tough competitor but that's just unbelievable what she did. Jonny ran a good race but I know he's a little disappointed in his placing. He ran well enough to beat some of the runners who had beaten him at regionals."
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.