For most of her tenure as the girls and boys cross country coach at Garden City High School, Krista Linenberger hasn’t spent much time paying a lot of attention to teams that run in the eastern part of Kansas during the fall season.
That’s because she’s more focused on how her Buffaloes’ teams are practicing, from the time summer off-season workouts begin, to the fall preseason and during the short eight-week regular season schedule.
Now that all of that is past history, Saturday’s Class 6A state cross country at Lawrence’s demanding Rim Rock Farm will be the final assessment of how the Buffaloes have trained for this last race of the year.
The Buffs’ girls will be in the first race of the day, starting at 10 a.m., while the boys will run at 11:45 a.m.
The Buffs boys are coming off a repeat regional championship last Saturday at Cessna Activity Center in Wichita, and they will be looking to match last year’s surprising state runner-up team finish despite losing their top two runners — Marcus Tula and Erik Chaparro — to graduation.
Leading the Buffs boys will be senior Javier Cervantes, who has been running No. 1 all season, and was runner-up at the Wichita regional with a time of 16:39.44, nine seconds back of Derby’s Jonathan Jones.
“He’s really stepped up into a leadership role for us this season,” Linenberger said of Cervantes. “I think last year, he felt like maybe he was running on Marcus and Erik’s coattails, but this year, he’s been a more vocal leader. He’s encouraged the new runners and really provided great leadership.”
But Cervantes will need solid performances from senior teammates Kameron Wildeman and Sotero Salazar, who ran close to Cervantes with fourth- and fifth-place regional finishes, respectively, and only 10 and 12 seconds behind their team leader.
“I think we always go into the state meet with being under the radar a little,” Linenberger said of the boys. “Even like last year, we weren’t expected to finish that high. It’s all dependent on how we come together and run close to each other. Maybe we’ll surprise some people again. We’ll see what Javier and Kameron have in them, and the others fall in close behind.”
Other runners for the Buffs’ boys are sophomores Ethan Fisher and Mario Bustillos, junior Javyn Contreras and senior Jesus Quintero Enriquez.
For the Buffs’ girls, it is even more uncertain as to how the team will compete Saturday after securing the third and final team qualifying spot at last week’s regional.
Senior Brooke Navarro has blossomed into one of the top runners this fall in 6A, and lived up to that by winning the regional in Wichita with a time of 19:43.65, nearly a half-minute ahead of the second-place runner.
From there, however, the Buffs’ performances fell off some, with her twin sister, Mya, placing 13th, sophomore Makaylee Longoria 18th and senior Georgia Kohlhorst 20th. Abigail Murrell (Sr.), Taylor Savolt (Jr.) and Sidney Scott (Sr.) were 24th through 26th, respectively, finishing within four seconds of each other.
“At times this fall, the girls have run well, and at times they haven’t,” Linenberger said. “We’ve never had all of them run well at the same time, so if we get that on Saturday, it will be interesting to see where they finish.”
Linenberger said it was a given that teams from eastern Kansas would be the most likely state title contenders. Rarely have teams from the Wichita area and western Kansas fared well at Rim Rock.
“It’s going to be exciting to see Brooke run,” Linenberger said of her top runner. “She’s run incredibly well all season, but the last couple of weeks she’s really stepped it up. There are a lot of names there (state qualifiers) that you don’t recognize, so it could be a wide-open race.”
State note: The Buffs have had only one individual boys state champion, that being Tim Algrim in 1974 when the meet was held in Salina. No GCHS girl has captured an individual title, although Alex Miller was runner-up in consecutive years, that coming in 2012-13 when the girls team placed second as well. Janet Doll also placed second in 1981.