Holcomb finishes runner-up in Class 3A state cross country.

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

LAWRENCE — Whether it is Wamego Country Club or Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Holcomb cross country coach Lindall Cox subscribes to the same strategy.

Look for your top runners to perform well, have your middle runners pack together and your sixth and seventh runners move up in the standings and knock other team's runners down in points.

That strategy paid off in dividends once again for the Longhorns as they ran their way to a runner-up finish on Saturday at the Class 3A state meet in their first appearance at Lawrence, following 13 consecutive years of running at Wamego.

With senior Brendan Thomas placing 11th, the Longhorns finished with 100 points, well back of highly-favored Wichita-The Independent, which literally ran away with the team championship with just 45 points.

"In a way, this is every bit as satisfying as when we won," Cox said in reference to the team's 2008 and 2009 state titles won at Wamego. "The best part of this is how hard these kids worked for this. There might be a couple of individuals who aren't necessarily happy with their place, but this is a great performance for the team."

While the Longhorns enjoyed their sixth consecutive year of finishing in the top five, Scott City's Joey Meyer was the area's top individual performer with an eighth-place finish when he clocked a 17:39.60 while Thomas recorded a mark of 17:50.60. Meyer's effort helped the Beavers to a sixth-place team finish with 160 points.

Meyer said the difficulty of Rim Rock was not lost on him when he first viewed the course on Friday afternoon.

"It was just a horrible feeling of how tough the course was," Meyer said. "I started feeling it in my stomach today, and the hills just got to me. I was just feeling that I wanted to get this over with. Coach (Kevin Reese) told me to hang with Brendan (Thomas) and that I'd be in good shape."

Meyer said the start of the race, which goes uphill for more than a quarter mile, was key to his eventual finish.

"I knew that I wanted to be as far up in the pack by the time I got to the top of the hill," Meyer said. "I was able to do that, and then just held my place the rest of the way."

For Cox and the Longhorns, the key has always been his runners in the Nos. four through seven positions. In the case Saturday, he got it from Nos. 2 and 3 Tayler Chelemedos and Jose Tapia, who ran back-to-back at 21st (18:12.60) and 22nd (18:14.80). Ian Rupp (50th, 19:00.30) and Chris Foreman (51st, 19:03.30) closed the scoring for the Longhorns.

"Our two and three, and our four and five, stayed together and it was just picture perfect," Cox said. "They got their positions early in the race and didn't back down from there."

For Cimarron's Kari Blattner and Joisan Smith, the first appearance at the state meet for the freshmen Lady Bluejays proved to be a memorable and exciting day.

They ran together much of the day and finished 11th and 12th, respectively, to earn medals for their top 20 finishes.

"It was a difficult, but fun course to run," Blattner said after she was clocked in 16:49.80 while Smith finished in 16:52.60. "It was hard at first, nerve-wracking and the course just got really hard. You're out of breath at some point, and you know that it's not gonna be fun, but it turned out to be a perfect day to run."

For her teammate Smith, the performance capped off an amazing first year of high school competition.

"I loved it out there today," Smith said. "I knew if I stayed close to Kari, I'd have a good chance of placing. If somebody had told me at the start of the season that I'd have a top-20 finish at state, I'd have said they were trying to pull my leg or scare me. I think we help each other by challenging ourselves to be better."

The difficult Rim Rock course got her attention as well.

"When I first saw the course, I was terrified," Smith said. "Getting out at the start, I thought I'd get trampled, but we just kept moving up and getting in better position."

See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.