GIRLS TOP 10 RUNNERS
1. Destini Eskridge, Maize South senior
2016 state finish: 20:30, 12th in 4A
Outlook: Last season Eskridge returned from injury near the end of the season and was able to gut out a top-15 finish at the state meet to help Maize South win its first team championship. Eskridge is fully healthy and looking to return to her elite status as a cross country runner after a solid track season in the spring. Depending on where Maize South falls in the classifications, Eskridge will either be a title contender in 5A or 4A.
2. Aimee Davis, Clearwater sophomore
2016 state finish: 18:55, second in 4A
Outlook: Davis burst onto the scene last season as a freshman, immediately cracking 20 minutes and even breaking 19 minutes at the state meet. She finished runner-up to one of the state’s best runners ever in Girard’s Cailie Logue, but Davis did finish more than 40 seconds ahead of the field in second place. She will certainly be in the title hunt this season as a sophomore.
3. Emilee Endsley, East senior
2016 state finish: 19:37, ninth in 6A
Outlook: Coming off her best season to date, Endsley will be looking to improve on her top-10 finish in the 6A field from last season. Endsley has picked up a medal at the state meet all three years and could go down as one of East’s top runners in program history with an even stronger senior season after cracking 20 minutes consistently last season.
4. Katie Wagner, Maize South sophomore
2016 state finish: 19:51, fifth in 4A
Outlook: Wagner was a pleasant surprise for Maize South during its championship season, as she came on even stronger than expected during her freshman season and came through with a fifth-place finish in Class 4A. Wagner had a strong track season and should be even stronger this season, as she figures to give Maize South a potent top of the lineup with Destini Eskridge and make the Mavericks a title contender in Class 5A or 4A.
5. Karli Elsner, Valley Center senior
2016 state finish: 22:39, 65th in 5A
Outlook: Injuries plagued Elsner at the wrong time last season, as her state finish was not indicative of the type of talent that she has. Now that she’s healthy entering this season, expect Elsner to be back down around the 20-minute barrier and one of the top runners in Class 5A this season.
6. Claire Winter, Carroll junior
2016 state finish: Did not qualify
Outlook: After sitting out last season from varsity due to transfer rules, Winter is now eligible and is expected to make an immediate impact at the Class 5A level. Winter was breaking 20 minutes in junior varsity races last season, so given a jump up in the competition level should bring out even better performances this season.
7. Kate Molitor, Maize South sophomore
2016 state finish: 20:04, ninth in 4A
Outlook: Along with classmate Katie Wagner, Molitor was a major reason why Maize South was able to run its way to a state championship last season. Molitor’s emergence last season was crucial and now she will be relied upon to take it up another notch this season after a top-10 finish in her debut season.
8. Anna Reimer, Maize sophomore
2016 state finish: 24:50, 90th in 5A
Outlook: Reimer was poised for a top-20 finish at last year’s state meet, only to collapse near the finish line. She was still able to finish the race, but nowhere close to where her potential is. Motivated by that race, Reimer, who broke 20 minutes last season, appears poised for an even better sophomore campaign.
9. Devin Gerber, Andover Central junior
2016 state finish: 20:03, eighth in 4A
Outlook: Andover Central has had a resurgence in its cross country programs and Gerber has been a big part of that her first two seasons with the team. Last season Gerber became the top option for the Jaguars, as teammate Alexandra Schumann struggled with injuries. Now that Schumann is healthy again, Gerber and Schumann could be one of the top duos to watch in Class 4A this season.
10. Alyssa Nelson, Eisenhower junior
2016 state: Did not qualify
Outlook: Nelson was plagued by injuries during her sophomore campaign, but she was a state medalist as a freshman and has flashed a lot of potential. Coach Jeff Taylor says Nelson is finally healthy entering the season and believes a return to her freshman version is coming when Nelson was already breaking 20 minutes.
Others to watch: Taylor Gilpin, Douglass senior; Erika Landes, Mulvane senior; Madison Schepis, Maize South junior; Alexandra Schumann, Andover Central junior; Alaina Stucky, Newton junior
GIRLS TOP 5 TEAMS
1. Maize South Mavericks
2016 state finish: Champions in 4A
Top runners: Destini Eskridge, sr.; Mia Kossover, sr.; Graycee Meyer, sr.; Gabby Crowell, sr.; Madison Schepis, jr.; Katie Wagner, so.; Katie Molitor, so.
Outlook: Maize South was dominant last season, winning the Class 4A title with 31 points. The Mavericks lose two of their scoring runners, but have more than enough returning to make another run at a state title. Eskridge has returned to form as an elite runner and should pair with Wagner and Molitor to make up a strong top of the lineup. Schepis and Kossover also return from the state team and give Maize South reliable scoring options with a wealth of depth returning in coach Michael Pope’s first season.
2. Andover Central Jaguars
2016 state finish: Second in 4A
Top runners: Devin Gerber, jr.; Alexandra Schumann, jr.; Cailan Steward, jr.; Hannah Wiebe, jr.; Lindsey Kane, so.
Outlook: The Jaguars lose their top runner from last season when they finished second in Class 4A, but return the rest of their state lineup. Four juniors will make Andover Central once again a potent team, led by Gerber and Schumann, who are state medalists, at the top of the lineup. Despite having a young lineup, Andover Central should once again be potent enough to make a run at a team trophy at the state meet.
3. Bishop Carroll Golden Eagles
2016 state finish: Fourth in 5A
Top runners: Claire Winter, jr.; Grace Gorges, so.; Carly Honas, sr.; Camille Behring, fr.; Cameron Pascal, fr.
Outlook: Last season Carroll was still able to finish fourth in Class 5A, despite not having a runner in the top-25. That should change this season now that Winter, a transfer who was breaking 20 minutes, is eligible to run on varsity. Throw in the return of Gorges and Honas and the arrival of some impact freshmen and Carroll should have enough firepower to contend for a team trophy in 5A this season.
4. Maize Eagles
2016 state finish: Did not qualify
Top runners: Anna Reimer, so.; Carson Pierce, sr.; Annie Allenbach, so.; Aria Sheldon, so.; Maya Stucky, sr.; Nicole Vick, jr.; Sydney Blair, sr.; Tania Allen, sr. Olivia Elmore, jr.; Cadence Ohl, jr.
Outlook: It was a stunning end to the season for Maize last season, as the Eagles failed to qualify for the state meet for the first time sinec 1998. But Maize returns its entire lineup this season with Reimer back at full speed leading the way up top. Pierce and Stucky are reliable options as seniors and Allenbach and Sheldon showed great promise as freshmen last season. With so much returning talent, Maize figures to make a strong push to return to the state meet this season.
5. Valley Center Hornets
2016 state finish: Seventh in 5A
Top runners: Karli Elsner, sr.; Sydney Martens, sr.; Holly Smith, jr.; Sarah Schaar, jr.; Riley Ranzau, so.
Outlook: Valley Center graduates two of its top runners from last season, but still should have talent coming back to be one of the top teams in Class 5A. Elsner has returned to health and should be in store for a bounceback season as the team’s top runner. Smith and Ranzau proved to be up-and-coming runners last season and Martens has been a reliable scoring runner in the past. If the Hornets can find a fifth score, then they should once again one of the area’s top teams.