Dream season lacks perfect ending
It was no secret what Chris McAfee wanted to accomplish during the 2004 cross country season.
After the girls team qualified for the state meet in 2002 and the boys went in 2003, McAfee had a feeling that 2004 could be a special year.
He knew both teams were in position to qualify for the state meet in the same year for the first time under his tutelage. McAfee even predicted during the season that a top-five finish for each team was a good possibility.
McAfee's confidence did pay off as his Wildcat teams earned runner-up finishes at regionals and the subsequent berth to the state meet, but the top five finishes once there didn't materialize.
"It wasn't the way it was supposed to end," McAfee said of the boys' seventh-place finish and the girls' ninth-place performance. "From where we came from it was supposed to end better for our seniors."
Just the same, the Wildcat season started fast and climbed to a peak at the regional meet in Tonganoxie.
De Soto won both the boys and girls races at the Topeka Hayden Invitational in early September, earning seven medals in each race. Taking second (girls) and third (boys) at the school's initial Frontier League meet, and qualifying for the state meet were also highlights for the coach.
The boys squad had five top-three finishes as a team and raked in 28 medals for the season. Six runners earned medals during the season. As a team, the boys scored a season-low 47 points in winning the Hayden Invitational.
Senior Casey Johnson led the way for the Wildcats in every meet and garnered four first-place finishes and a pair of second-place finishes.
His best time of the year came at the Tonganoxie Invitational and at regionals, when he clocked in at 16 minutes, 34 seconds. He took first at Tonganoxie and second at regionals.
Donnie Gardner was the No. 2 runner for De Soto at each meet. The senior ran a season and career-best 16:59 at the regional meet where he finished seventh out of 91 runners.
Another consistent runner for McAfee was Tanner McNamara, who finished as the team's No. 3 runner in each of the nine meets. His best time came on the Tonganoxie track, as well, when he raced his way to a 10th-place finish with a time of 17:44 at the invitational.
Adam Wilcox, Alex Wayne, Jerin Riffel and Matt Woywod made the boys varsity squad for most of the season. Chris Dvorak eventually broke through after he was the sixth Wildcat and 40th runner to cross the finish line in 19:21.78 at the league meet. The sophomore was then given the nod to run on the varsity at regionals and at state.
For the girls, Morgan Frehe and Melissa Roberts took turns leading the Wildcats. Frehe led the way for De Soto in the first three races of the year before Roberts took over for the next three. The pair then took turns leading the way over the remainder of the races.
Frehe won the Topeka Hayden Invitational in 13:05 in leading the Wildcats. Roberts best finish was a second-place effort at the Eudora Invitational, where she turned in a time of 12:44.1.
Four girls broke the 13-minute barrier at the Tonganoxie Invitational, Oklahoma State Invitational and at the regional. In those meets, the fifth Wildcat to finish nearly eclipsed the 13-minute mark as well.
Carrie Wilbert, Andrea Young and Katie James all took turns as the Wildcat No. 3 runner during the season. Lauren Karnitz and Trish Roberts ran for the Wildcats as well this season.
The girls squad scraped together four first-place finishes as a team. The Wildcats added two second-place efforts. In all, the girls squad earned 38 individual medals throughout the season.
De Soto's girls team scored a season-low 22 points in winning the Hayden Invitational and won the Eudora Invitational with a mere 28 points. At Hayden, five runners finished in the top 10, while the same number of runners placed in the top 12 at Eudora.
McAfee's girls team earned 12 individual top five finishes and 19 top-10 medals. The boys pulled in nine top-five efforts and 14 top-10 finishes.
A new addition to the Wildcat schedule in 2004 was the trip to Stillwater, Okla., to participate in one of the biggest high school meets in the country. McAfee compared it to another big high school meet in Lawrence.
"Rim Rock is a pretty big meet," he said. "It has tons of good runners, and a lot of good local teams. But Oklahoma State was at another level. The races seemed faster. Plus you got to see a lot of great college runners. The whole scene was pretty mind-boggling."
The Wildcat coach said a big reason for his team's success this year was the willingness of the kids to train harder. He said the athletes trained with a lot of intensity and in a great mindset.
"I challenged them more than I have ever challenged them before," the coach said. "And they challenged themselves as much as I did."