By Taylor Eldridge
The big meets this week are Thursday at Circle and Saturday at El Dorado. Eldo’s meet is just going to be insane, so let’s focus there.
Who wins the individual races of both the girls and the boys? Is it Balch? Is it Maki? Is it Milbourn or Walker? Can Derby girls knock off Carroll finally?
Can Neil Metler ride his momentum into a huge upset over Adam Porter? Can Sprague make up the few seconds from last week and contend? Who wins between Carroll and Campus in the team title? Can Mac get up there?
So many questions. What do you think? Burrton InvitationalWhere: Burrton
When: Thursday at 4 p.m.
Who: Burrton, Fairfield, Halstead, Maize South & Sedgwick.
Why 2 Watch: If you are a parent or a coach.Circle InvitationalWhere: Wartick’s course
When: Thursday at 4 p.m.
Who: Andover, Andover Central, Augusta, Belle Plaine, Chaparral, Circle, Clearwater, Collegiate, Kingman, Mulvane, Rose Hill, Trinity, Wellington, Wichita West & Valley Center.
Why 2 Watch: From what I can tell, this will be the meet to watch on Thursday. The course will be beautiful and hopefully it doesn’t rain too much, so the times are still decently fast. The girls race will be a good one, as Valley’s Morgan Wedekind, Rose Hill’s Taylor Carlson and Clearwater’s Logan Davis will likely battle for the individual title. I’ll pick them in that order and then others in the top 10 should include Andover’s Laura Sellew, Central’s Mackenzie Wills, Clearwater’s Babb sisters, Collegiate’s pair of Megan Duggins and Maggie Newlin and Mulvane’s Haley Welch. There is probably a Belle Plaine girl that will be up there as always, I just haven’t seen much on them this season. As far as the team title goes, I’ll go Clearwater and then Rose Hill. But Belle Plaine, Circle, Collegiate, Mulvane and Valley Center will likely be there as well. On the boys side, the race shouldn’t have much suspense. Mulvane will win the team title, likely sweep the five spots and get a perfect score. Central’s Eric Lighfoot might break up the top-5, but he’s the only one I see challenging. Others to watch for include Andover’s Michael Just, Central’s Andrew Howell, Circle’s Jameson Fay and Jason Lauxman, Clearwater’s Jerome Youngers, Collegiate’s Max Craddock, Valley’s Corey Kingsland and Wellington’s Eric Anders. I don’t see a lot of other really strong teams out there, but Central and Circle are two that might contend for second.Medicine Lodge InvitationalWhere: Medicine Lodge
When: Thursday at 4 p.m.
Who: Andale, Cheney, Cunningham, Fairfield, Garden Plain, Haviland, Independent, Medicine Lodge, Oxford & Pratt-Skyline.
Why 2 Watch: This will be a meet that I will likely check for, but to be honest I have not heard a lot about any of these schools. But I will be keeping an eye on Andale, Garden Plain and Independent to see if they show anything this race. League meets are coming right up, so runners should begin to start picking up their paces for the most part.El Dorado InvitationalWhere: Bluestem Point
When: Saturday at 9:45 a.m.
Who: Andale, Bishop Carroll, Campus, Derby, East, Garden City, Goddard, Great Bend, Hutchinson, Junction City, Kapaun Mount Carmel, Maize, Manhattan, McPherson, Newton, North, Northwest, South, Southeast & Sunrise Christian.
Why 2 Watch: Without question, the biggest local race since Southeast’s. This one might even be bigger and better than that one. Where to start, where to start. How about the girl’s team race? From my weekly rankings, my top seven teams will be there. I’ll go with them and say it goes Carroll, Derby, Newton, Goddard, East, Maize, Kapaun, but Manhattan will challenge Carroll I think (or at least I thought I remember hearing Manhattan’s girls are really good). The individual race honors will be Balch v. Maki III. Balch is the clear favorite, winner of the first two head-to-head races, but Maki ran probably her best race of the season last week in Stillwater and has a new air of confidence. Don’t think it’ll be just those two though, as all 10 of my top runners from the area will be there this week. Can El Dorado’s Molly Milbourn and/or Maize’s Dani Walker stay with the City League girls? Those four in the same race is just insane. And then don’t forget about the Derby girls (Emily Hornbeck and Amber Green), the Newton girls (Mallorie Coffman and Erin Loeffler), North’s Amber Eichkorn and Goddard’s Megan Ballinger. Wow. Just wow. Then the boys team race will be very exciting to watch as well, as nine of my top 10 teams will be there. Manhattan should win, but it will be interesting to see if Carroll or Campus gets second and if Mac get sneak in there to contend with them. Can Hutch’s top-end strength beat East’s spread-out talent? Can Derby, Northwest and Maize get solid contributions from their #3-#5 runners to contend? Can’t wait to find out and then there are the pairs of runners from each school to watch. Campus (Brock Nooney and Bryant Keirns), Carroll (Clint Kissling, David Thor), Hutch (Cameron Sprague, Chris Wise), McPherson (Adam Porter, Morgan Peterson) and Northwest (Robbie Martinez-Garcia, Daniel Herbert). Who wins between Porter, Sprague and Derby’s Neil Metler? If anybody can pull the upset, its Metler. He’s running really well right now. But I’ll take Porter, then Metler, then Sprague and I’m sure Manhattan will have someone up there as well.
By Taylor Eldridge
This week Circle will play host to one of the bigger meets of the season for the area and it will be put on by long-time Circle coach Gary Wartick. Teams love coming to Circle’s meet because of the uniqueness of the course. And that is directly because of Wartick.
The land that the course is on is Wartick’s and he pretty much designed it himself. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, so if you don’t have anything to do on Thursday you should go check it out if you love cross country.
Anyways, here’s the weekly Q&A with the coach:
Let’s start off talking Circle cross country this year. How’s the season gone so far for you guys?
“The boys team two weeks ago won the Douglass meet. Last week they won the Halstead meet. The girls also won the Douglass meet two weeks ago and they were second at the Halstead meet last week. The girls are now just starting to figure it out. I think they are capable of a big surprise later in the year.”
The boys team is pretty deep this year, isn’t it?
“Yeah, it is. What’s exciting is that we got 19 boys out and the varsity roster other than the top five has changed almost weekly because someone on the JV keeps bumping up into the varsity spots. It’s going to be an absolute fight down to the end for who’s going to be our six and seven runners, which is kind of neat. It kind of keeps them all going in practice.”
How about the girls team? You sounded pretty excited about them earlier.
“We’ve had just several things not go our way. They haven’t really been 100 percent at any one meet, whether it be one of them is sick, one them has a side ache, one of them had leg cramps. Just various things that have kept them out of the loop of being noticed. They’ve been having some outstanding practices. They’re really coming together, but nobody sees that. I’m hoping in the next two weeks that we get them all firing on the same day and that’s going to be fun to watch.”
I know coaches always have it planned out before the season when they want runners at a certain time. How hard is it to adapt to unexpected things like little injuries and sicknesses and things like that?
“It’s really hard. With as much sickness that has been going around all the schools, the thing that can happen is at regionals or state or even league you could be favored at being at the top, but all it takes is one or two kids being sick. And that’s not just our school, it’s happening at all the schools. More so than I can ever remember affecting kids. So it’s a challenge just keeping them healthy and getting everybody to peak at the right time. We’ve really worked them hard so far this year. We’re pushing them really hard and not letting their legs be fresh. And we told them that at the beginning of the year. We’re not going to pay attention to the earlier meets. We’re going to be paying attention to the last three or four meets of the year. We’re going to peak when we need to. So now we’re backing off a little bit and letting them be fresh. And their times are starting to come down. I did this spreadsheet thing of all of the times this year and the girls were saying, ‘We’re not getting faster.’ Then I showed them what they were doing in the beginning and what they were doing now and they were like, ‘Holy cow, we are getting better.’ We all have goals, but our ultimate goal is to always make it to state. That’s our ultimate goal. I think we can get there with both the guys and the girls.”
Let’s talk some about this course I’ve been hearing about now. Sounds pretty popular.
“Yeah, of all the coaches that have ever been here, I have never had any complaints. The footing is great. There’s not any tough hills. There’s a lot of trees you can run through. They’re running along the river. They’re running by two nice ponds. It’s just a setting that is really good. On the 5k, the coach can walk a couple hundred yards and see them three different times and be able to call out their times. And most meets, you can’t do that. Most meets it’s just too spread out. This one here is really user-friendly. We have this cabin here that’s probably 120-plus-years-old that was an old rock cabin where we hold all the coaches meetings and the awards ceremony amongst a bunch of big tress. The setting is just different than most. It’s just pretty.”
So where did you get the idea to make a cross country course? Or was that the reason you bought the land?
No, I just always thought we should be hosting a cross country meet. So we got to looking at the lay of the land and were thinking, ‘If we do this and this and this, it might be pretty cool.’ Now we’ve got it perfected so to speak. They’re always things we can do better. But we’ve got it now where the footing…there’s no dips or craters. The footing is good, so they can get good times. This place is kind of…there is no big hill and it’s all kind of on a downward slope for three-fourths of the course, which kind of helps add to the speed. They can usually get some pretty good times. The thing that I take the most pride in is this thing is on the money. You take a look at all the courses at various locations and somebody might run a 16:20s the week before and then run a 17:30 the next week. That course was probably short. This one, I can say it’s on the money. Anybody can come and wheel it off. I take pride in that. When it comes time to leave, coaches might be disappointed in a race or a time, but they can know its the right time and the right distance. That’s the big thing for me. I like courses that are on the money. And this is on the money.”
So it seems like you guys have a nice little dynasty going in the distance program. For a small 4A school like Circle, what do you think the key in that has been?
“We have a good summer program, but I would say it’s the kids. We have some of the best kids in the school. We have kids that believe in the program. And we try to make it fun. The kids take pride in getting better every week and take pride in improving their times. They’re all very consciousness about that. It’s just the attitude of the whole team, which is kind of contagious. It carries on through the next class. And the kids are the biggest recruiters. They’re the ones that can recruit and make or break you. If they say, ‘I hate cross country’, they’ll kill it. But if they say, ‘Hey, let’s go get so and so’ and before you know it, there they are out running cross country. The kids have really recruited well. But they have to buy into your program. They have to want to recruit for you. They have to want to convince kids that it’s a neat thing to do.”
So how did you get into cross country? Were you a runner?
“My brother and I were both runners. My brother was a little better than I was though. We both ran for a junior college. I’ve been coaching track for almost 18 years at Circle and this thing kind of opened up and I took it. I started the middle school program I can’t even tell you know how many years ago. I did it for free the first year just to get things going. Then coach Gipson took it over for awhile and then my daughter took it over for a while. She teaches at Circle. But this has worked out really good. You have got to have a good middle school program to make your high school program work too. The first year we had 16 kids out. Now we have 31 out. We’re growing and I hope that continues.”
Favorite course (outside Rim Rock & his own): DouglassPre or Ryun: Ryun (big time)Gatorade or Water: GatoradeFastest 2-mile: 9:59Post-race meal: LasagnaPre-race traditions: His “boring” pep talk