Stanton County, Hugoton boys each take second.
By BRETT MARSHALL
If the Kansas State High School Cross Country Championships on Saturday at the Wamego Country Club would have been a wedding, it would have had more than its share of bridegrooms and maids of honor.
Teams and individuals from The Telegram area came oh so close to the top spots in Classes 1-2-4A races, but none came home with first-place finishes.
The rundown of the would-be honorees went like this:
Greeley County's boys and girls, reigning Class 1A champions (boys two-time and girls three-time) both finished second, the boys falling by a 36-53 score to Scandia-Pike Valley while the Lady Jackrabbits were dethroned by Lawrence-Bishop Seabury, 43-56.
Junior Troy Wineinger and senior Kennedy Schneider, both individual runners-up in 2010, each were fifth. Stanton County's boys finished second in Class 2A while the Lady Trojans took fourth. It was the highest finish for the boys since they won in 2004, and the best for the girls since a fifth-place finish the same year. It was junior Raul Pantoja and freshman Jenna Black who had the highest individual finishes for the Trojans, with Pantoja placing fourth and Black seventh.
Hugoton's boys had their highest team finish in school history, finishing second in Class 4A behind the 10th-place finish of junior Jacob Martin. The Eagles had 112 points while host Wamego won easily with 54 points.
Individually, Wichita County junior Paige Wells ran her best time at the course in three seasons en route to a third-place finish in the Class 2A girls race. She now has a second-, fourth- and third-place finish in her prep career.
While Greeley County's double-reign came to an end, veteran coach Greg Cook was philosophical about his team's performance and accomplishment at the end of a season that saw his teams, both boys and girls, run without the depth that they had enjoyed in seasons past.
"We didn't get the best race out of all our boys, but Pike Valley had a good team, and I think we'd have had to race perfectly to finish ahead of them," Cook said. "I'm not sure we could have won even then. It was kind of the same with the girls. If you take a good, long look at the teams coming in, we'd have had to had great performances from everyone. Still, most of our times were better than they were a year ago, so I'm not disappointed."
Wineinger ran the 5K layout in 17:31.83 while Northern Valley's Gunnar Hays won in 16:45.03. Schneider ran a 16:32.65 in her fifth-place effort while Axtell's Audrey Schmitz repeated her title in 15:48.99 over the 4K course.
"I'm sure both Troy and Kennedy would have liked to have finished higher, but they ran very good races," Cook said.
For Stanton County coach Mike Horton, the Trojans' performances were encouraging in that virtually all of his boys and girls varsity runners will be returning in 2012. The program that has produced 20 state team titles has climbed back into the top echelon of 2A.
Pantoja clocked a 17:02 to pace the Trojans while Fabian Avalar also made the top 20 with an 18th-place finish in 18:00.52. Black, who had been unbeaten midway through her freshman year before mononucleosis hit, ran a 16:16.57 for her top-10 finish.
"We were close to being in the top three in the girls, but just couldn't quite get there," Horton said. "For the boys, Raul's time was right there where Eric (Ruth, 2009 champion) was when he won."
Pantoja, in fact, ran just .03 of a second slower (17:02.00 to 17:01.97).
"He looked strong and ran a great race," Horton said.
Horton said Black would come back stronger next season.
"If you look at the times she was running back in early September, before she was diagnosed, she had times that would be competitive with the top runners at the state meet," Horton said. "Things we don't have control of sometimes happen, but we know she'll be back."
Wichita County's Wells' third appearance at the state meet provided her best time against one of the top fields in all classes. Lincoln's Jenna Farris, who topped Wells a year ago and then at the state track meet last spring in the 3,200-meter run, won the gold medal again in 15:40.35. In a near-photo finish for second, Lauren Harrell of team champion Maranatha Academy of Shawnee was second in 15:45.46 while Wells was right behind at 15:46.11 and Brooke Fisher of Pratt-Skyline was fourth at 15:46.61. Ironically, last year Fisher finished ahead of Wells while Jenna Snell of Ellinwood, runner-up last year, was fifth.
"Paige had the game plan for the race and ran it perfectly," said Wichita County coach Shad Mehl. "She started out back in the pack, moved up to the top 15 and then just looked strong in the final mile as she picked off runner by runner. It was a very smart race. I'm not sure she could have run much better. When she's within five seconds of Farris, you know she's run a great race."
For Hugoton's boys, the runner-up finish came with mixed reaction from head coach Nick Rodriguez. He will return all but one of his team for next year. Martin's top-10 time of 17:14.38 paved the way for the Eagles, who were running with their other top performer this year, Patrick Weaver, injured but still finishing 31st.
"I think our second was kind of unexpected, especially with Patrick being hurt," Rodriguez said. "We just didn't know what to expect with him today but even with a 100-percent Patrick, I'm not sure we could have caught Wamego."
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.