Last October, the Olathe South boys cross country team made program history winning its first-ever state championship. Now, the Class 6A champs have a target on their back as they look to repeat that title in two months.
The Falcons graduated two seniors from that squad, including their top runner Matthew Tolman, but they three runners who finished in the top 30 at state. They should be one of the favorites to win the 6A crown.
The OS girls team finished sixth at its 6A regional, where the top three teams were also the top three teams at state. Four of their top five runners from that meet are back this fall, so if they can advance past their incredibly tough regional, the Falcons could be a threat to contend at state.
Both teams will begin their season Saturday at the Tim Nixon Invitational in Liberty.
Coach Zach Pope recently answered questions about his teams and what who he thinks might make an impact this fall.
How did the summer go for your team?
Our summer went really well. It was very uneventful, but that’s how we like it. We aren’t a flashy program and our summer conditioning reflects that. We talk a lot in our program about how distance running is a simple sport – you run consistently all year round and you will see great results over time and our summer program is an important cog in that process. We had good attendance from our core group of returners and they put in the miles they needed to accomplish their fall goals. We also had some new faces that provided positive energy and will be great contributors for us down the road.
Who is returning from your varsity squad from last fall?
On the boys side we have four athletes returning who ran for us at state last year – Tyler Burns (Sr.), Bennett Meoli (Sr.), Cole Burkholder (Sr.) and Dylan Plath (So.)
On the girls side we have five athletes returning who run for us at regionals – Amy Gotfredson (Jr.), Emily Vandaveer (Sr.), Mia Jacobs (So.), Julia Swearengin (Jr.) and Olivia Trentadue (Jr.)
Who are some newcomers or up-and-comers to varsity that you think might make an impact this season?
On the boys side, Conner Doherty (Jr.) is a young man that is going to do big things for us in our top five this fall. He was on our varsity squad last year early in the season before an injury slowed him down. He is an extremely hard worker and has had a fantastic summer of training. Carter France and Jonah Thiele were alternates on our state title team last fall and are both seniors who have worked hard for four years and waited their turn to contribute on varsity. I think they are going to provide us great depth on the varsity squad this fall.
On the girls side, Julia Swearengin (Jr.) has taken some nice steps forward this summer and will be a key piece for us. Avery Fellingham (So.) ran JV for us last year but was a state qualifier in the 4×4 relay at state track this past spring and has really improved as a distance runner. Ani Allen is a freshman that we have known since she was in early elementary school because her two older brothers ran for us and now she is ready to contribute at the high school varsity level.
What excites you most about this team?
In general, the thing that excites me most is the same thing that excites me every fall – seeing kids take steps forward not only as runners but also leaders. When you lose senior leaders to graduation, it’s always exciting to see what younger kids assume those leadership roles and start to really take ownership of that team building process.
More specifically, on the guys side I am excited to see how we respond to the added pressure that comes with being defending state champions. We don’t talk much about outcomes (times, places, titles, etc.) as those aren’t always controllable, but we have a great senior class on the boys side and they have done a phenomenal job of focusing on the process this summer, and that has trickled down to our younger guys.
On the girls side, I am really excited to watch our girls team take a giant step forward this fall and create their own legacy. They have been kind of stuck in the boys’ team shadow for a few years but I don’t think that is going to be the case much longer. We have the potential on that side to be the best we have been in my 10 years with the program and we have a fun and tough group of girls who are more than ready for the challenge.