Young runners learn at state
For De Soto cross country coach Chris McAfee, the 2003 cross country season was about putting his team in position to get ready for 2004 and beyond.
With the talent he will have back next season, he just wanted the Wildcats to qualify for the state meet so they could taste competition at that level.
"Next year we are going to be better and have a good showing at state," he said. "Really, this year was about preparing for next year.
"As a team, we discussed how fast a state meet starts and how we needed to get out smarter and then move up."
Not every Wildcat runner followed the game plan at this year's meet, McAfee said. But he predicted they learned from Saturday's experience.
The De Soto boys, who made their first team appearance at the state meet since 1995, finished in 10th place by scoring 207 points.
Junior Casey Johnson led the way for De Soto with a sixth-place time of 16 minutes 34.24 seconds. It was the third best finish for a male De Soto runner at the state meet. Two past Wildcat runners finished second at the state meet.
For McAfee, there was only one goal for his top runner Saturday at Wamego. He had to make a run at the gold medal -- not only to get the win -- but also to gain experience for next year."We decided last week that Casey was going to go for the win," McAfee said. "I thought he would have a great shot at it.
"If we had run him more conservatively, he could have finished as high as fourth, but it wouldn't have prepared him for next year."
Johnson did make a good run at the individual championship early when he stayed with the lead pack for the first mile and more.
But the start of the race had a quicker pace than Johnson had seen all season. The first mile alone was run in less than five minutes.
"That is by far the fastest he has been out, ever," McAfee said. "He had a tough time dealing with that, and he ended up sixth."
Junior Donnie Gardner was the second Wildcat to cross the finish line in a 49th best clocking of 17:49.
Although Gardner ran better than he had the past couple of weeks, McAfee would have liked to see him battle more in the middle part of the race.
"I would have liked to see him attack more in the second mile and move up more during the race," the coach said.
Chris Peterson, the lone Wildcat senior participating at the state meet, finished 57th in a time of 18:03, while freshman Tanner McNamara clocked in at 71st place in a time of 18:22.
Adam Wilcox (99th, 19:51.17), Matt Woywod (100th, 20:13.64) and Alex Wayne (102nd, 20:36.17) all ran for De Soto, as well.
Carrie Wilbert was the only Wildcat to represent the girls for De Soto. The sophomore started well but slowly faded and eventually dropped to 74th place with a time of 13:45.
"She started right where we wanted her," McAfee said. "We wanted her to move up throughout the race, but she never did. Instead she just kept falling back. We still need to work on race strategy and mental preparedness."