By BRETT MARSHALL
The one thing that Garden City High School cross country coach Krista Linenberger hoped to accomplish at Saturday's Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence, site of next month's Class 6A state meet, where the Lady Buffs finished second in 2012, was to gauge her team's progress halfway through the season.
What she didn't count on was a schedule snafu by meet officials where the girls' race, originally scheduled for early afternoon, was reset to 8:30 a.m. At 7:30 a.m., the team was just leaving the hotel for the course where freshman Hannah Schultz was to compete in a junior varsity race at 8:30 a.m.
"It was just a messed-up day, and they apparently changed the order of races due to the threat of rain," Linenberger said. "A couple of other coaches also said they didn't receive notification of the time change, so we had to scramble and get out to the course."
With a warm-up of about 30 minutes, the Lady Buffs managed to finish eighth among 27 teams in the elite Gold Varsity division, an improvement of five places from their 2012 finish.
In several cases, the Lady Buffs improved their individual standing from the 2012 race, but Linenberger said times overall were generally slower, due in part to a wet Rim Rock layout, with a reputation as one of the toughest cross country courses in the country.
"It was pretty wet for the girls race, but it got even worse after that for the boys," Linenberger said. "It was really tough for the varsity boys because it was raining, and most of the runners fell at some point during the race."
Senior Alex Miller, who was second in Class 6A state last year, placed 10th individually with a time of 15 minutes, 43.7 seconds over the 4-kilometer race (2.4 miles). Kayla Doll was 30th in 16:19.2, while Chelsea Jackson was 48th in 16:37.7. Junior Katy Doll was 55th in 16:42.5, while Maria Rodriguez was 126th, in 17:44.5, to round out the five scoring runners. Also running for the varsity were freshman Aileen Gurrola (142nd, 18:02.8) and senior Cecilia Alvarez (166th, 18:35.1). Schultz ran an 18:38.3 to place 40th in the JV race.
The Lady Buffs finished with 269 points, while Pine Creek, Colo., was first with 103 points and Lawrence Free State was second with 121 points. The rest of the teams ahead of the Lady Buffs included St. Thomas Aquinas (5A, 138 points), College Park (144), St. Teresa's Academy (218), Iowa City West (236) and Heritage (265). Maize and Manhattan, two expected 6A challengers for the Lady Buffs, were ninth and 10th with 281 and 316 points, respectively.
With Lawrence Free State claiming second and being the top 6A Kansas school in the race, Linenberger said she now knows what teams will be the chief contenders at the Nov. 2 state meet on the same layout.
"Definitely Free State has come up with some younger runners who did well," Linenberger said. "They get the opportunity to run there all the time, so with all that happened on Saturday, I still think we have room for improvement when we get there for state. It will be a challenge, but we're looking forward to a return there."
Meet officials had evidently sent an email but it wasn't received by all schools. On Friday, the Buffs, who arrived in Lawrence late, didn't go to the course for a walk-through, and did not get word of the time change.
"Everything was just out of sorts," Linenberger said. "As you can imagine, the girls were a little shaken when they found out. We didn't get to eat our normal breakfast, we didn't get our normal warm-up. All things considered, the girls ran really hard and competed well."
Then, after completion of the race, Jackson's finish was not calculated into the team standings, which indicated the Lady Buffs were 13th. Linenberger had to go to the scoring trailer there to inform the officials of the oversight and it took some time before the error was discovered and then corrected.
"Everyone was a bit distraught and in some cases a little mad," Linenberger said. "It was our story of the day."
On the boys side, the Buffs competed in the Crimson Varsity division and placed 22nd out of 37 teams with 510 points. Mill Valley won the team title with 197 points.
A pair of freshmen, though, highlighted the Buffs' efforts as Marcus Tula and Erik Chaparro placed in the top 40 runners.
Tula was 37th with a time of 17:28.3 over the 5-kilometer course (3.0 miles), while Chaparro was close behind in 39th with a time of 17:29.5.
"I'm really proud of the way those two ran," Linenberger said of her two rookies. "They were lucky if they didn't slip and fall, it was just raining so hard. They ran so well."
Other finishers for the Buffs were Ray Urbina (108th, 18:20.9), Jesus Reyes (172nd, 18:59.6), Drew Cady (190th, 19:07.6), Juan Gomez (213th, 19:27.3) and Josh Kreger (233rd, 20:08.2).
The Buffs' varsity squads will head out-of-state later this week for the Saturday Chili Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark. It is regarded as one of the biggest high school meets in the country, with 120 teams schedule to compete in different divisions. The race will be contested at 5-K at Agri Park in Fayetteville. The boys will run at 11 a.m. and the girls follow at 11:30 a.m.