By Jimmy Gillispie
BALDWIN CITY – The Olathe West girls cross country team shined bright Saturday morning, and proved why it’s one of the best teams in Kansas.
Olathe West won its first girls’ state title last fall, and it looks primed to be the team to beat this year, too. The reigning Class 6A state champions dominated the competition at the Baldwin Invitational meet, placing five runners in the first 12 spots en route to running away with the team title.
The Owls scored just 38 points – 64 more than second place Mill Valley – after all five of their scoring runners medaled in the top 20. In fact, the Owls needed only 12 spots for its top five to finish.
“They ran well,” Olathe West coach Kelsey Carbajo said. “It was different, because we had a different order of the top five to come through today, which I think is going to continue to happen all season because all five of our top five have been working really hard together. There’s not a true who’s in the lead person – it’s all five of them working hard to be at the top and in the top 10, which is the goal.”
Sophomore Bree Newport led the Owls with a fourth-place finish in a time of 18 minutes and 54.79 seconds on the 5-kilometer course. Two teammates – juniors Charis Robinson and Kate Miller – crossed the finish line right behind Newport, helping the Owls place three runners in the top five.
Rounding out the top five for Olathe West were juniors Paige Baker and Aubree Blackman. The finished one second apart in 11th and 12th place. Freshman Elizabeth Browning and sophomore Kolby Brown finished as the sixth and seventh runners for the Owls.
“We talk all the time about who cares about the order of Olathe West just as long as we are passing other teams,” Carbajo said. “If it happens that someone else is winning the race that day, we’re OK with that as long as we’re winning together as a team. I think they’ve taken the whole family and sister and team dynamic very seriously. It’s them against everyone else.”
Mill Valley finished second in the girls race with 102 points. Mill Valley senior Katie Schwartzkopf cruised to an individual victory. She began the race in the lead pack before separating herself and winning in a time of 18:23.31 – 13 seconds ahead of Shawnee Mission East junior Grace Meyer, who finished runner-up to lead her team, which placed fourth overall.
Rounding out the top five teams were Saint Thomas Aquinas and Washburn Rural. STA didn’t place a runner in the top 13, but finished only four points behind Mill Valley in third place. Washburn Rural placed three runners inside the top 10 en route to finishing fifth as a team.
The host squad Baldwin, which is the defending Class 4A state champ, finished 9th out of 12 teams. Baldwin was the only team which wasn’t a 5A or 6A school.
The boys side of the meet came down to a single point for the team title. Olathe South edged out Mill Valley, 62-63, as its fifth runner finished four spots ahead of Mill Valley’s fifth runner.
Senior Matthew Tolman led Olathe South with a fourth-place finish in a time of 16:26.85. He was surrounded by Mill Valley’s top two runners – sophomore AJ Vega and senior Chase Schieber.
Winning the boys race was Free State senior Benjamin Shryock, who is the top returning runner from last year’s 6A state meet. Shryock finished seventh overall, helping the Firebirds to their first state title. Free State has won a pair of girls state championships.
Shryock led most of the race and won by 12 seconds over Shawnee Mission East junior Wyatt Haughton. Free State coach Steve Heffernan was proud of his senior for his race.
“He’s become more comfortable,” Heffernan said of Shryock. “His confidence has not always been really high in cross country. You get onto the track for the mile and two mile, he really understands how to run those races. With cross country, it’s kind of up and down. He won some races last year, but now as a senior, he’s got enough experience I think he’ll be able to piece together a better season.”
Free State is one of many schools from the Baldwin meet and in the Kansas City area that will be competing at the prestigious Rim Rock meet north of Lawrence. Other schools will be heading to Augusta to compete on the 5A-6A state course.
Meanwhile, Olathe West will be traveling north hundreds of miles to the Griak Invitational in the Falcon Heights, Minnesota, which is part of the twin cities.