By Jimmy Gillispie
Once the Class 5A girls state cross country race begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the 4 Mile Creek Resort, it’s truly anyone’s race.
It will be the first of four races at the course. And, predicting a winning team or individual won’t be easy. There are several contenders for both.
Maize South comes into the meet as the defending state champ, but there hasn’t been a repeat champion in 5A since St. Thomas Aquinas won the 2015 and 2016 titles.
Mill Valley has been the top-ranked team all year, but it lost a close regional race to STA last week. Then there’s teams like Kapaun Mt. Carmel, Great Bend and Topeka-Seaman that enter state as regional champs aiming to bring home the top prize Saturday.
As far as individuals are concerned, there are a handful of runners who could leave Augusta with gold. There was only a single senior in the top 11 last year, and she placed fifth.
There are a pair of runners who appear to be the top two after regionals, but anything can happen. They represent Mill Valley and Piper schools.
Let’s take a look at the contenders for both the individual and team titles:
Hope Jackson, Bishop Carroll — The two-time defending state champion has to be one of, if not the top favorite. She hasn’t finished outside the top four in her first three years. Jackson’s regional winning time wasn’t near her fastest of the season, but she didn’t need to break any records to win. Will she save her best race for her last one as a Golden Eagle?
Katie Schwartzkopf, Mill Valley — She won the state title as a freshman before finishing runner-up twice. Will she end her prep career on top? It seems quite possible, because she’s posted the second-fastest time of any Kansas runner this year. Schwartzkopf broke 18 minutes at regional, so an individual title could be huge as the Jaguars will be trying to win their third state title in four years – in different classes.
Grace Hanson, Piper — Arguably the top lone individual who doesn’t have a team competing, Hanson has a chance to bring home gold for the Pirates. She hasn’t been tested the past two weeks, but has still ran under 18:30 twice on the same course. Hanson finished sixth last year after placing runner-up as a freshman in Class 4A.
Britton Kelly, Maize South — The fourth regional champ is definitely a contender for the state title. She led Maize South to a regional runner-up finish last week, so the better she can finish, it will benefit the Mavericks. A year ago, Kelly placed 11th at state. A top 10 or top 5 finish seems likely for the Maize senior.
Charlotte Caldwell, Mill Valley — The Jaguar freshman has a tough mountain to climb to a state title, as she’d have to beat her senior teammate, but she’s likely to be in the pack. Caldwell finished second at the regional meet, and can’t be overlooked. She’s likely the next great runner for Mill Valley, and a good finish at state could propel her into the track season in the spring.
Mareike Krebs, St. Thomas Aquinas — The Saints’ top runner this year could really help her squad with a big finish. She finished third at the regional meet, but will likely battle for among the best runners at state. Krebs will probably end her career with a state medal, but what place will it be?
Bethany Druse, Seaman — As a sophomore, Druse earned her first state medal with a ninth-place finish. She finished runner-up at the regional meet, and is expected to compete with the top runners at state once again. Seaman could use a top finish from her, and freshman Joslyn Grace, who finished third last week.
Landon Forbes, Bishop Carroll — She’s definitely one of the favorites after finishing third last year as a sophomore. Forbes will have to battle her own teammate among several top runners. She placed runner-up at the regional, and like her teammate, a big finish would help the Golden Eagles in the team race.
Isabella Ross, Blue Valley Southwest — Another freshman who could be in contention for the individual title. Will the stakes of the meet get to her or will she continue the great season she’s having for the Timberwolves? She will likely end her freshman season with a state medal to set her up for future success.
St. Thomas Aquinas — The Saints are arguably the favorite to sweep the 5A state titles after their regional performances. The STA girls knocked off top-ranked Mill Valley last week. Will they bring home their first state title since 2018?
Mill Valley — The Jaguars have been ranked first all season, and are primed to win the 5A championship after placing fourth last year. They won back-to-back 6A titles in 2018 and 2019. Did they have an off race at regional or did they just run to qualify for state? Either way, Mill Valley seems like a favorite as it had a faster scoring average time than STA last week.
Great Bend — Last year’s sixth place team has a very good chance of moving up in the standings Saturday. Great Bend won its regional and averaged 20:18 with its scoring runners. Its top five runners placed fourth through eight and less than two seconds apart, so a tight pack could a long way at state.
Seaman — A clean sweep on the team scoring at regionals can’t be ignored. Seaman finished second through sixth and eighth last week. That won’t happen at state, but Seaman is a team that has an honest chance at competing for the title.
Kapaun Mt. Carmel — Another regional champ that will have a chance to bring home gold this weekend. The Crusaders might not have a top individual runner that will contend for the title, but it has a solid team that could easily improve upon last year’s fifth place finish.
Bishop Carroll — Having the top three runners at regionals, including two of the best runners in the state, is a recipe for success, especially at the state meet. Last year’s runner-up team will need good races from its fourth and fifth runners to battle for its first state title since 2011.
Maize South — You can’t forget the defending state champions. It graduated two seniors, but only three runners from last year competed at last week’s regional.
St. James Academy — The Thunder placed third at their regional, but they lost to a pair of the top contenders for the state title. They will have a tough time winning the championship, but a trophy could be possible.