By Jimmy Gillispie
Will the state champions of the Class 6A girls cross country meet be exact same as the ones last year?
Seems quite possible based on results this fall, especially the ones a week ago at the four regional meets.
Despite being a relatively new school, Olathe West has already established itself as one of the powerhouses in girls cross country. The Owls won their first state championship – by a single point – last year, and they look poised to do the same.
They might not have the top runner in the state, but the Owls have depth and a tight pack near the top of the field at every meet. They’ve won meet after meet, but will they cap their season with a state title?
The same can be said for Olathe North sophomore Anjali Hocker Singh. She’s been nearly unbeatable, and has won many meets by a large margin. Will anyone be able to knock off the defending state champ and keep from being on pace to win four state titles in four years?
Let’s take a look at the top individuals and teams at the 6A girls race, which begins at noon at the 4 Mile Creek Resort.
Anjali Hocker Singh, Olathe North — The defending state champ’s biggest competition all season has been runners from out of state or Mill Valley’s Katie Schwartzkopf, who now competes in 5A. She broke 18 minutes at the regional, and is primed to repeat as the state champion. It might take a bad of hers for anyone else to win.
Grace Meyer, SM East — Last year’s sixth place finisher at state could be one of the runners to compete with Hocker Singh. She won her regional, and looks to finish her senior season with a bang. She will likely have to set a new personal record to win, but anything is possible.
Madeline Carter, Washburn Rural — Winning four consecutive meets, Carter enters the state meet on a roll and ready to help her team compete for a state title. She placed eighth last year, but is expected to improve upon that Saturday. It would be the program’s first since 1996.
Paige Mullen, SM Northwest — Runner-up at the regional, Mullen is the second leading returning runner from last year’s state meet. She placed third, just breaking 19 minutes at state. Mullen is one of two SMNW girls competing Saturday, and she’s trying to become a three-time state medalist as a junior.
Kaylee Tobaben, Olathe North — Obviously, the Olathe North senior will have to upset her own teammate to bring home individual gold. It seems unlikely, but another runner-up finish, like she had at regionals, would go a long way toward team success Saturday.
Khloi Bird, Washburn Rural — It’s been a very good senior year for Bird after placing 52nd at state last year. As a sophomore, she finished 33rd, but this year seems to be the one where she becomes a state medalist. Bird was runner-up to her own teammate at the regional, so a big finish from her could be huge for Washburn Rural.
Hannah Gibson, SM South — She was fifth two years ago as a freshman and seventh last year. This year, Gibson is projected to finish around the same area. SM South could use a huge finish from Gibson, who has the experience to compete well at state.
Tori Wingrove, Blue Valley — A three-time state medalist and the 2019 state champion, Blue Valley’s top runner is ready to close out her incredible career with another state medal. She was third at a tough regional, but her experience and success is nothing to overlook.
Kate Miller, Olathe West — She hasn’t finished first or second at a meet all season, but Miller is always around the front of the pack. She leads the top-ranked 6A squad that looks to repeat as champions. The higher she can finish, the better the chance for another Owl title.
Payton Fink, Washburn Rural — The freshman has been huge for Washburn Rural. She has finished third at the past four meets. A big finish from her could be really big for the team and her confidence moving forward in her next three years of high school.
Olathe West — Program history was made last year with a one-point win over Blue Valley Northwest. The Owls third runner from a year ago tore her ACL, but their depth has been tough this season. They’ve won some big meets, and are expected to win state again.
Olathe North — The Eagles gave top-ranked Olathe West a scare last week at the regional with three runners in the top five. Can they do it again with a bigger, tougher field? They have never won a girls cross country state title, so is this year for history?
Washburn Rural — The fourth ranked team in 6A could be a surprise this Saturday. Washburn Rural won its regional, and is led by its top three that have been getting stronger as the season progresses. Does it have the depth to improve upon last year’s eighth-place finish? Seems likely, even a state trophy seems likely.
Manhattan — Since 1980, Manhattan has won a state title once, and it was in 2015. It has a chance to bring home another Saturday, but it will need a big day on the course. Manhattan finished sixth last year, so a higher finish seems quite possible.
Shawnee Mission North — The Bison could have a big day on the boys and girls side. The girls are an underdog, but their top four runners are solid. If a fifth runner has a good race, a state trophy could be in the picture for the Bison.
Shawnee Mission South — The Raiders finished second at their regional by just four points. They could be a surprise team Saturday at the state meet. They are led by one of the best runners in the state in Hannah Gibson.