AUGUSTA, Kan. — Minutes after the Class 5A girls race Saturday, as hugs were being given out, Chris McAfee walked over to his team to deliver a message.
Whatever McAfee said was received with joyous screams and tears.
He told his Mill Valley girls cross country team it had just won the Class 5A state championship. It was the program’s first 5A title after winning back-to-back Class 6A championships in 2018-2019.
“We talked about making sure we were in the right spots in the race, and I felt like we did that,” McAfee said. “At any point in time, I thought we were winning, then I thought we were in third or maybe second or fourth. It was so tight in there and so close to call.”
Mill Valley runners finished first and third overall, but the team’s race was an incredibly tight race. It was so competitive, McAfee wasn’t sure his team won as runners continually crossed the finish line.
“Everybody else could get the team scores to show up on their phones, but I couldn’t,” McAfee said. “That was for sure nerve-wracking.”
The Jaguars scored 71 team points, just clipping St. Thomas Aquinas by two points. Great Bend was just a few points behind – seven point behind Mill Valley – to finish third and earn a state trophy.
STA beat Mill Valley, which was ranked No. 1 in the state, last week at the 5A regional. McAfee admitted that loss motivated his team leading up to the state meet.
“A wake-up call is probably a good way to put it,” McAfee said. “After that, we were very determined to come back and beat Aquinas today and win a state title. The girls were maybe little more focused this week than maybe they have been before.”
Mill Valley was led by a pair of top-three finishes. Katie Schwartzkopf won her second state title in four years when she won Saturday’s race by 42 seconds.
Two spots behind her was Charlotte Caldwell. The Jaguars’ freshman ran a gritty race, despite not feeling well before the start, according to her coach.
“Her and my daughter have been friends for a long time, so coming in to the season, we knew she’d be pretty good,” McAfee said. “She really grew a lot during the summertime and into the season. The last three or four weeks, finally got her confidence level to where it could be at. … She even threw up on the starting line, so we were a little bit worried. But, it says a lot about who she is and her toughness that she was not going to let the team down.”
Rounding out Mill Valley’s scoring was freshman Meghan McAfee (15), freshman Laura Hickman (31) and senior Logan Pfeister (46). The Jaguars’ sixth and seventh runners were senior Bridget Roy (53) and sophomore Kynley Verdict (56).
St. Thomas Aquinas had its top five runners in the top 27 overall, led by Mareike Krebs’ fourth-place finish. Following her was Sophia Spinello (20), Quinn Babcock (23), Alexis Huddin (24), Anna DiCarlo (27), Lilly Mauk (32) and Lillian Blaufuss (57).
Great Bend was led by a pair of state medalists in Emilia Diaz and Marissa Boone, who placed 16th and 17th, respectively. Completing the roster were Addy Nicholson (21), Eliana Beckham (25), Diane Alvarez (30) and Emma Loomis (33).
– Story by Jimmy Gillispie