AUGUSTA, Kan. — Once the bright yellow jerseys began crossing the finish line one after the other, Zach Pope had a good feeling history was being made Saturday.
The sixth-year coach was correct.
Pope’s Olathe South boys cross country was doing something never done in program history. The top-ranked Falcons didn’t succumb to the pressure of being the No. 1 team in Class 6A.
Instead, they embraced it. They went out and won their first state team championship. Many other programs at Olathe South have won state titles, except cross country.
Well, that changed Saturday.
The Olathe South boys cross country team had all five of its scoring runners finish in the top 30, as it scored 70 points to easily win the 6A championship. Manhattan (100) and Olathe East (120) were the other two schools to receive trophies.
Olathe South just missed out on a trophy last year, finishing fourth – three points behind Gardner-Edgerton. This year, the Falcons were projected to compete for the title, and they did so in convincing fashion.
“It’s overwhelming in a lot of ways,” Pope said. “We tried to be even keel this week and not talk about being favorites or anything like that, because we knew there were a lot of good teams that could be us, and it was going to be whoever ran best. Just to see all seven of them, especially the top five, run awesome was just incredible. I was overwhelmed. It was just amazing. It’s an awesome group of kids. They run for each other more than anything. For them to do that for the school and themselves is just amazing.”
Pope said his squad thought they won the title immediately after the race, but it officially set in when the numbers were totaled and Pope told his team the news.
“Obviously, they were pretty excited,” Pope said. “I think they had a pretty good idea right after the race. We had a pretty good idea we had won, but when you see it in print, it’s a whole other issue to see your name at the top of the list.”
Much like their cross-town rivals, the Olathe West girls, the Falcons didn’t have a runner in the top five at state, but its top five was unstoppable. Senior Matthew Tolman led the way with a sixth-place finish in a very competitive individual race.
Junior Tyler Burns and senior Rhys Allen also earned all-state medals, placing 16th and 20th, respectively. The other two scoring runners were juniors Bennett Meoli (24) and Cole Burkholder (28).
The Falcons’ spread from their first to fifth runner was a mere 39.6 seconds. No other team had a spread below 52 seconds.
“Our fourth and fifth, Bennett Meoli and Cole Burkholder, closed the door today,” Pope said. “Our top three ran awesome, but those two young men to come in 24th and 28th just kind of put it away. No one works harder than those two kids, so it was just awesome.”
Freshman Dylan Plath (76) and sophomore Luke Ochs (84) rounded out the Falcons roster at state. All seven Falcons broke the 18-minute barrier.
Manhattan was led by senior Ben Mosier, who finished ninth overall. Fellow senior Max Bowyer was also an all-state runner, placing 14th.
The other Manhattan runners were freshman Landon Knopp (26), sophomore Ethan Bryant (40), junior Kolby Grogg (49), junior Silas Mills (60) and senior Parker Dawdy (74).
Olathe East just edged out defending champ Free State by one point for the third-place trophy. Junior Carter Stewart was the top Hawk, finishing third overall. Senior Luke Jenkins earned an all-state medal with his 15th-place finish.
The remaining Olathe East runners were senior William Whitehead (44), sophomore Diego Barron (47), freshman Nathan Barnes (52), sophomore Brendan Wheatley (70) and junior Ethan Ochana.
– Story by Jimmy Gillispie