By KEVIN THOMPSON
LAKIN — Neither rain, nor cold, nor gray of day could thwart the running of the Lakin Invitational cross country meet Saturday.
Not this close to the post-season. After twice canceling the meet in the past three years due to weather, officials decided that the lack of the predicted snow and wind was a good enough sign to run this final regular season meet, and for area runners, it was a good move.
Patrick Weaver of Hugoton and Chisholm Branscum of Ulysses won their respective junior-senior division races, and the Eagles and Tigers went one-two in the team sweepstakes, just ahead of third place Ness City.
Branscum's 4-kilometer time of 16:28.50 was 18 seconds ahead of runner-up Jessie Rubottom of Ness City.
"That's kind of slow for me," Branscum said of her time. "I preferred conditions like last week in Syracuse where it was cool but not cold, it wasn't rainy, and the grass wasn't completely soaking your feet. You just had to suck it up and keep going today."
Branscum started out the race in the lead pack before speeding to the front by herself. Rubottom and Hayley Ribordy of Oakley closed in at the end of the second mile before Branscum opened it up.
"When I got to the two mile, I just went home," she said. Keeping loose was critical in running under these conditions, Branscum said, something for which she and her teammates were prepared.
"When we started to jog the course, I said before you start to do any of our normal stretches, make sure you get a good jog and get your muscles warm before you do anything, especially this late in the season," she said.
Other top area finishers were Paige Wells of Wichita County, Kelli Holthaus of Greeley County, Alex Martinez of Lakin and Angelica Corral of Ulysses, in fourth through seventh in the older division. Wells was running in her first race this fall after undergoing surgery on both legs in early June to relieve pain due to a condition called Compartment Syndrome.
In the freshman-sophomore division, Autumn Mize of Boise City won in 16:55.04, the fourth-fastest time overall. Haley Floyd and Jenna Black of Stanton County were second and fifth, respectively, and Maria Martinez of Hugoton placed third. Their times placed them all in the top 10 overall.
On the boys' side, Weaver waited until the second mile, too, to break away from the lead pack, running a 16:36.02 for the 5-kilometers, 11 seconds in front of Dray Carson of Ness City, the only two boys under 17 minutes on the rain-slicked course.
"It surprisingly felt really good. This is my favorite weather, though," Weaver said. "I felt really good coming into the last stretch."
He ran in a lead group for much of the race, but when he felt the leaders start to slow down, he kicked it in right after the bridge that led to the long straightaway section on the course's east side.
Weaver said he was hoping for a 16:40, and he bettered that by four seconds.
Teammate Jacob Martin finished third in 17:02.91, just over two seconds ahead of Joey Meyer of Scott City. Chase Hittle, Luis Castro, and Matt Nash placed ninth, 11th and 13th to lead Hugoton's strong performance, and teammate Isaac Castro's 17:47 in the younger division would have placed him ninth overall.
That Eagles boys performance, along with Martinez's sixth-place overall finish, was good news for Hugoton coach Nick Rodriguez.
"We ran well despite the conditions," he said. "In cross country, you have adjust to those and do the best you can."
Runners can handle the cool weather, but the dampness was a factor because of the slipping and falling possibilities, he added.
Hugoton and Ulysses run their league meet in Colby and regionals in Buhler on a new course designed just for cross country.
Rodriguez said he will find out all he can about the new course to get the layout and nuances figured out to better prepare his squad.
Area 3A schools run in the Hi-Plains League on Thursday at Stanton County and regionals at the familiar Cimarron course on Oct. 20, which is good news for Lakin coach Shawn Martin.
"A number of our kids are really excited. They like that course and are looking forward to running there," he said.