It's the next-to-last 400-meter gasser in cross country practice at Independent and the boys team is losing motivation.
While catching his breath, senior Jordan Speed says, "Come on guys, are we gonna prove this ranking or what?" Enthusiasm suddenly sweeps over the team before their final two sprints.
There's a lot to prove when the coaches brand you the No. 1 team. Independent has assumed the role of the favorite in Class 3A, with six returning from its team that placed third at state last season.
But Independent hasn't won anything yet, which serves as the driving force behind this team.
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"Never before has every member of the team, not just the varsity, been so dedicated to improving," junior Dylan Hernandez said. "It sounds cliche, but you would not believe how much being determined can make a difference."
The revival began in the summer, when the varsity runners committed to running in the summer. It was a reversal from the past.
"They were actually calling me, wanting to go run," coach Steve Riley said. "I would have to tell them to take a day off, but they never missed a workout."
Along with its lone senior in Speed, Independent features a pack of six juniors — Jacob Campbell, Jason Ream, Zach Wolken, Josh Werner, Hernandez and Christian Packebush.
"We definitely want to leave our mark after we're done," Wolken said. "We all still have another year after this one, so we want to create a dynasty where we get the younger kids to grow up and show that same dedication that we have."
Independent still has to verify itself at meets like the Swather Special today in Hesston, but it's hard to deny what could be in the coming years.
"They would like to be like a Mulvane," Riley said. "They want Independent to be known as a good running school."
We have a team, too —Campus is regarded as having one of the best boys programs in the area. But coach Rick Curless has worked with the girls team for years, with results starting to show.
It was a baby step, but the girls team finish fifth at the J.K. Gold Classic last week. After struggling to piece together a team in recent years, it was an exciting finish for the Colts.
Even after losing top runner Ashley Krier to injury, Campus will be competitive behind Paige Thompson, Aubrey Winkler, Briana Binger, Becca Way and Bailey Clark.
"They just decided to cut out all the drama and just focus on putting the team number one and become a lot more disciplined athlete," Curless said. "They take cross country more seriously now."
Campus will run at the Emporia Invitational on Saturday.