Destini Eskridge didn’t have a choice. But if she did, the Maize South senior would have selected Saturday’s scenario for her final high school cross country meet.
“I really wanted to move back to (Class) 5A and run at Rim Rock,” Eskridge said. “I really love racing there. And I wanted to race St. Thomas Aquinas again before I graduated.”
Thanks to an enrollment spike of almost 100 students and a rise in classifications this year at Maize South, Eskridge will get her wishes. The Mavericks, who swept 4A boys and girls titles last October at Wamego Country Club, will take their championship hopes to Rim Rock Farm, the picturesque 5A site north of Lawrence, along with state qualifiers in 6A and 3A.
Aquinas has cast a mighty shadow in recent years at state, winning five consecutive 5A girls titles and the last three boys championships. But Maize South will send four girls and five boys to Rim Rock who helped win the school’s first state titles in the sport last year.
The Mavericks aren’t the only ones eager to dethrone Aquinas. While Aquinas won its boys regional last week, St. James Academy and Mill Valley defeated the Saints in the girls competition.
“We let them know the talent is there to do it, but we’ve also made sure we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” said Mike Pope, who replaced Jason Parr as Maize South’s cross country coach this season after Parr moved to the collegiate ranks at Friends. “I think there’s five teams in 5A that would have a good shot of winning 6A this year.
“Being in that mix is good, but understanding that level of competitiveness that it will take is necessary because 5A is pretty strong this year.”
Maize South’s girls, who captured league and regional titles, have gotten there with a mix of newcomers and veterans. The Mavericks have three freshmen in their state lineup, including Alexa Rios, who won the Lake Afton regional in 19 minutes, 51 seconds.
Eskridge, healthy again after missing the first part of her junior season with a stress fracture, finished third. Sophomore Katie Wagner, fifth in 4A last season, also was in the top 10.
With sophomore Kate Molitor, a top-10 finisher at state last season, sidelined by a hip injury, the Mavericks have relied on their depth.
“I think the freshmen have brought a lot to our team,” Eskridge said of the group that includes Rios, Claire Dingler and Kadee Martinez. “They’re fresh and new and excited about the sport, and that just helps the team.
“I’ve tried to teach them the ropes and tell them about all the courses, and they do a good job of pushing the rest of us.”
Maize South’s boys have maintained success after graduating Ethan Kossover, who was second in 4A. Senior Bryce Merriman, junior Britt Magnuson and senior Dane Wedge each posted sub-17 minute times and top-10 finishes in the windy regional race, which came on the heels of a victory in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail II meet.
That trio, along with sophomore Trey Rios and junior Luke Jennings, have state experience.
“Their key is going to be run smart, know where the other teams are, be able to match up with them and just tough it out,” Pope said. “Teams like Aquinas, Blue Valley Southwest, Carroll and Mill Valley, they all run a little differently.”
State cross country
Classes 6A, 5A, 3A
At Rim Rock Farms, Lawrence
6A girls, 10 a.m.
5A boys, 10:35 a.m.
3A girls, 11:10 a.m.
6A boys, 11:45 a.m.
5A girls, 12:20 p.m.
3A boys, 12:55 p.m.
Classes 4A, 2A, 1A
At Wamego Country Club
4A girls, 10 a.m.
2A boys, 10:35 a.m.
1A girls, 11:10 a.m.
4A boys, 11:45 a.m.
2A girls, 12:20 p.m.
1A boys, 12:556 p.m.