Johnson leads solid cross country effort at Frontier League meet
Knowing regionals were just a week away, De Soto cross country coach Chris McAfee had a dilemma to ponder.
Would it benefit his boys cross country team to go all out during the Frontier League meet and risk wear and fatigue for Thursday's do-or-die regional meet?
Or would he better serve the Wildcats by allowing his runners to put in a good workout at the league meet and let the chips fall where they may?
"I put the question to the seniors," McAfee said, "And they decided they would rather be ready for the regional meet."
Despite the team's choice to hold back at the league meet, Casey Johnson was able to spearhead the Wildcats to a third-place finish behind last year's 4A and 5A state champions Baldwin and Gardner-Edgerton, respectively.
His first-place effort of 16 minutes, 54.09 seconds at the Rim Rock Farm course in Lawrence beat out Baldwin's Keith Cowart by more than four seconds in the 5K race. Johnson took the lead over Cowart just after the one-mile mark and stretched it throughout the race.
Paola's Ryan Peck followed Cowart across the finish line five seconds later, and then four more Bulldogs finished one after the other, giving Baldwin 24 points and the team championship.
Gardner-Edgerton's top runner, Ronnie Lavoie, finished eighth in 17:29.31. The Trailblazers had their top five runners finish no worse than 39th as they edged De Soto for the runner-up spot with 92 points. The Wildcats scored 97 points.
Donnie Gardner finished 11th for the Wildcats, just ahead of two Trailblazer runners, in a time of 17:40.87. Tanner McNamara assured his spot on the all-league third team with a 21st-place effort of 18:25.14.
Adam Wilcox (35th) and Jerin Riffel (36th) rounded out Wildcat scoring when they finished the race with clockings of 19:13.72 and 19:14.58, respectively.
The biggest surprise of the meet for De Soto, however, was the effort of junior varsity runner Chris Dvorak.
The sophomore's time of 19:21.78 placed him 40th in the race and made him the sixth De Soto runner to cross the finish line.
"He hasn't been super consistent, but he ran out of his mind Thursday," McAfee said. "I was really impressed. Now we have to decide if we want to move him up (to varsity). It's something I'll discuss with the seniors."
There was no junior varsity race, but the following team members ran in the varsity race: Alex Wayne (50th, 19:46.28), Brett Caldwell (53rd, 19:56.18), Gary Kearns (58th, 20:13.65), Matt Woywod (68th, 20:32.41), Nick Cardiff (74th, 20:50.89), Lucas Walker (87th, 21:09.41), Alex Jacobo (115th, 22:26.41) and Riley Day (118th, 22:35.01). Their placings did not count in points for team standings.
Although they finished second behind Baldwin, McAfee described the girls second-place effort as "running scared." The coach said he didn't think the Wildcats were capable of catching the Bulldogs but that he thought they could have kept it closer.
"I could see we were pretty intimidated right out of the gate," he said. "We just didn't put ourselves in position to win."
Wildcat sophomore Morgan Frehe finished fifth in the race, in which the top-six finishers were either sophomores or freshmen. The second-year runner crossed the finish line in a time of 13:01.47, about eight seconds ahead of Wellsville's Aubrey Poor.
De Soto's Andrea Young was the first upperclassman to break the tape, claiming seventh place in a time of 13:13.59. Melissa Roberts was the third Wildcat to land in the top-10 when she clocked in at a 10th-best time of 13:23.58.
Katie James (13:30.72) and Lauren Karnitz (13:50.25) rounded out the team points for De Soto when they finished 12th and 19th, respectively.
Carrie Wilbert finished 21st for the Wildcats, posting a time of 13:53.71. Trish Roberts (35th, 14:32.92), Leslie Hodges (69th, 16:21.50) and Jazz Roddick (75th, 17:21.54) also ran for De Soto.
Baldwin placed three runners in the top four and five runners in the top nine on its way to 25 points and the team championship.
Eudora's Brittney Graff foiled the Bulldog's bid for a 1-2-3-4 finish when she placed second in a time of 12:17.74. Baldwin's Heather Garcia won the race with an effort of 11:57.90.
The top-15 runners medaled, and the top-21 made the all-league team. The first seven runners were listed on the Frontier League first-team. Runners coming in eighth through 14th made the second team, and runners 15 to 21 were put on the third team.
In each of the four regionals, the top three teams qualify for the state meet, as well as the top-10 individual runners. Additional runners may also qualify.
It appears De Soto will run in a loaded regional at Tonganoxie. Three top-10 boys teams will compete as well as four teams that have received mention in the Kansas Cross Country Coaches rankings.
Top-ranked Baldwin, fifth-ranked De Soto and eighth-ranked Tonganoxie will battle Fort Scott, Anderson County, Sumner Academy and Osawatomie for the top-three positions.
For the girls, top-ranked Baldwin, fifth-ranked De Soto and seventh-ranked Eudora will battle for their position in the standings.
"We've got to get a little tougher," McAfee said. "If we do run tougher, that will go a long way toward determining if we are running at state, or sitting at home."