Varsity Kansas

North foursome ready to take on state in cross country

North High cross country coach Mike Pope, middle, stands with his core group of boys runners. From left: J'Quon Williams, Ethan Brittain, Tristyn Villa, Nico Hernandez, Ricardo Banuelos and Jeremy Brittain.
North High cross country coach Mike Pope, middle, stands with his core group of boys runners. From left: J'Quon Williams, Ethan Brittain, Tristyn Villa, Nico Hernandez, Ricardo Banuelos and Jeremy Brittain. The Wichita Eagle

Tristyn Villa isn’t sure if he believed it at the time, but he told himself as a freshman cross country runner at North that he would be a state champion before graduating.

There was no way for the 14-year-old to comprehend what he was saying. The program has never won a state title, and 33 years have passed since the last City League school (Southeast in 1980) has won a Class 6A championship.

What seemed outlandish four years ago will now be a surprise if it doesn’t happen, as Villa and classmates J’Quon Williams, Jeremy Brittain, and Nico Hernandez have progressed into a foursome that has made the Redskins prohibitive favorites to win the 6A title this season, which commences Saturday at the Carroll Invitational.

“I’m one that dreams big, so I want to reach as high as I can,” Villa said. “I always had this in my mind and now that this year is here, I can feel it.”

When they arrived, North was a near lock to finish in the bottom half of the City League. As juniors, the foursome ended Carroll’s reign over the City League last season and led the Redskins to their first league title since 1967.

Rarely is a team as loaded as North is this season, as Villa, Williams, and Hernandez all finished in the top 25 at state last year with Brittain on that same level.

“We understand that this is something special we have,” Villa said.

It became apparent when the four met as freshmen.

Brittain and Villa were already friends, having run at the same middle school, but Hernandez and Williams were outsiders.

After Hernandez won his first race on junior varsity and Williams ascended up the varsity lineup, the four classmates realized the potential they had with their combined talent.

“We were unsure of each other to start out,” Brittain said. “But as time went on, we came together and started talking and hanging out more. We all like to do the same things, so we can all relate to one another. They’re basically my brothers.”

The bond began as teammates, but the group found that meeting up for runs soon carried over into hanging out at one of their houses every weekend.

They’re almost too close now, Pope said.

“I have to watch my back sometimes because they like to pull tricks on me,” he said.

The one the group is most proud of came last October at Rim Rock, where they tricked Pope into eating a candy bar specially prepared with a secret ingredient: Ex-Lax.

“Sometimes they think they’re funnier than they really are,” Pope said.

Regardless of the outcome this season, it’s a group that will be revered at North.

The only question left is will they leave as state champs?

“We know that this is it for us,” Villa said. “This is our year.”

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