By BRETT MARSHALL
WAMEGO — Greg Cook has had his share of coaching highlights for the Greeley County High School cross country program.
He's watched his teams capture multiple state championships through the years, such as 2009's double state titles.
But perhaps nothing was more surprising, nor more enjoyable and appreciated than what happened here Saturday at Wamego Country Club as his Jackrabbits boys and girls repeated as Class 1A state team champions.
"I just really don't know what to say, it's a great day, just great," an emotional Cook said in the aftermath of learning his girls had garnered their third straight team title, following in the path of the boys. "We had some really great races. My 2-3 girls ran great, my fourth girl ran super; some 30 seconds faster than she had been.
Few would have expected such a happening at the outset of the 2010 season as the Jackrabbit boys lost their top two runners — Kellum Schneider and Isaac Wilson — to graduation, and the Lady Jackrabbits lost their team leader, Madison Moser, as well.
With sophomore Troy Wineinger taking second individually in a time of 17:44.34 over the 5-kilometer layout, the Jackrabbits scored 40 points to easily outdistance Pretty Prairie's 61 points.
For the Lady Jackrabbits it was junior Kennedy Schneider who paced the way to the girls' third consecutive 1A title.
She, too, finished second individually with a time of 16:09.03 for the 4-kilometer event while Axtell's Audrey Schmitz took first with a time of 15:51.91.
A year ago, Wineinger was the No. 5 runner for the Jackrabbits and it was his finish that knocked the No. 4 Ness City runner down in the standings that allowed his team to narrowly win the title. Saturday, he was the leader.
"He's been solid all year and just ran a great race today," Cook said of Wineinger. "He's taken on the role of being a leader and I couldn't be more proud of him."
Wineinger said that the entire race went according to his plan.
"I felt really strong most of the race," Wineinger said. "I worked my butt off all summer and trained after losing Isaac and Kellum. About halfway through, (Gunner Hays of Northern Valley) made a move and just got out enough ahead of me. That first mile was really fast. But I felt really good and I was able to give it all I had without any problem."
Wineinger said he knew that he had to step up in the absence of the graduated seniors.
"Last year, they taught me to be mentally strong," Wineinger said of Wilson and Schneider. "To have a chance I knew we were going to have to step up and run our best."
Senior Clay Robertson was the Jackrabbits next highest finisher, claiming 16th in a time of 18:13.22 while Isiah Stone was 26th (18:52.29) and Ralph Stone was 31st (19:08.85). Elijah Stone, the No. 5 runner, was clocked in 19:55.89 for 50th.
For Schneider, the runner-up finish was her best effort in the three years running at state. And while she did that, she still felt like there could have been something even more special.
"The race started out kind of slow and after the first mile I should've started to catch her," Schneider said. "I kind of slowed down but then came back but didn't have enough at the end. I still think I could've went sooner and that might have made for a closer race. But winning? Wow. What a great feeling."
Because the Lady Jackrabbits had only four runners, all of their runners' finishes had to count, including sophomore Monica Valeta, whose 55th individual finish got 36 points toward the team total.
Senior Carly Robertson placed 11th (17:14.31), and freshman Kelli Holthaus (17:40.39) was 18th.
"My 3-4 boys ran great and I was not sure where they'd be," Cook said of Clay Robertson and Isaiah Stone, who were 16th and 26th. Ralph Stone was close behind in 31st to round out the scoring. "My 2-3 girls (Robertson and Holthaus) ran especially strong, too.
"We've got a great bunch of kids — it's phenomenal," Cook said. "It's the tradition that we have had. We just continue to get the right kids out and as long as we continue to do that I'll be smiling from ear to ear."
Cook had particularly high praise for his No. 4 runner, sophomore Monica Veleta.
"She knew the pressure was on and she stepped up and accepted the role," Cook said. "The other three girls did a great job of encouraging her and keeping her motivated and in the last three weeks she's improved unbelievably. Today, she ran more than 30 seconds faster than she did last year."
Cook said that all his team championships have been special. Today, though, might have been icing on the cake.
"They're all great but they're all different," Cook said. "This one is back to back and its both of them. This is definitely the most surprising. Maybe it will sink in in a few days."
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.