Cats nipping at Bulldogs’ heels in state
In recent years, there have been many similarities between the De Soto boys and girls cross country teams.
For example, in 2002 the girls team qualified for the Kansas 4A state cross country meet as a team. Casey Johnson escorted the girls as the only boy to make the championship for De Soto that season.
Last year the boys trotted their way to the event as a team, while Carrie Wilbert tagged along as the only girls qualifier.
This season there are similarities as well. Both teams are ranked fifth in the latest 4A rankings, and both are chasing top-ranked Baldwin teams in hopes of surprising the field and winning a state championship.
But the latest similarity between the two teams has helped them set a new standard at the school.
For the first time in the history of De Soto High School's cross country program, which was started in 1983, the Wildcats have qualified both squads to the top race of the year. And both did it by finishing second Saturday at their regional meet in Tonganoxie.
For McAfee, it's an exciting time, but he also had some moments of anxiety just before Saturday's race. The coach wasn't sure how well his girls team would perform.
"I was pretty frustrated before the race," McAfee said. "As the meet was nearing we were standing around looking scared again. We weren't focused on what we needed to do, so I just walked away."
McAfee later apologized and the girls called a team meeting before the race began. The rest, as they say, is history.
"I don't know what was said," the coach said. "But they went out and got the job done. I was worried about how prepared they were and they were ready to go the whole time. None of that was me, it was all on them."
Whatever it is they talked about, McAfee hopes they will continue the conversation because his girls harriers gave top-ranked Baldwin its biggest scare Saturday. After losing to the Bulldogs by 25 points at the Frontier League race, McAfee's squad lost by just a 38-45 margin.
"I think we're capable of beating them," McAfee said. "And I think the girls believe it too. If anything we want to make them sweat. We want them to know we're right there with them. That we're coming."
Although she was the fourth Wildcat to cross the finish line, Andrea Young led a charge of tough performance after tough performance for De Soto.
The junior gutted out a 12th place finish even though she had been sick all week. Running the course in a time of 12 minutes, 55 seconds, Young earned the ninth sub-13 minute effort of her three-year career.
"That girl gave everything she could have had in her body," McAfee said of Young. "She's an extremely tough kid."
Senior Melissa Roberts led the Wildcats to their runner-up position by running a time of 12:20 and turning in her best regional finish ever at third place. Morgan Frehe improved her regional position of a year ago by 19 spots after finishing fifth just three seconds back.
Wilbert ran her best time of the year in placing 11th for De Soto. Her time of 12:54 gave De Soto four sub-13 minute times on the day. Katie James placed 15th after she ran the course in 13:03.
Sophomore Lauren Karnitz, a first-year runner, finished 23rd, 33 seconds behind James. Trish Roberts finished the race in the 43rd spot after running the course in a time of 14:17.
Baldwin placed four girls in the top 10 compared to two for the Wildcats. De Soto countered by placing five Wildcats in the top 15. All five Bulldogs who contributed points for Baldwin made the top 17.
Donnie Gardner set a standard of his own Saturday. For the first time in his career, the senior broke the 17-minute mark. He also set a regional personal best when he finished the 5K race in a seventh-best time of 16:59. His previous best finish at regionals was last year's 18th-place spot.
Casey Johnson took 20 seconds off his league time but still finished second behind Baldwin's Keith Cowart, whom he beat at the Frontier League race. Johnson clocked in at 16:34 while Cowart ran the course in 16:23.
Another Bulldog, Sam Hinton, finished right behind Johnson with a time of 16:53. The Bulldogs also had the 5-6 and 11-12-13 runners come across the finish line to dominate the team race 80-26 over the Wildcats.
De Soto countered with Tanner McNamara coming in 14th with a time of 17:56. Jerin Riffel ran the Chieftain course in a time of 18:38, while senior Adam Wilcox finished off Wildcat scoring with a 32nd best time of 18:57.
Chris Dvorak, who was brought up from the junior varsity after his stellar performance in the league meet, finished 39th with 19:18. Alex Wayne earned 51st place with his time of 19:55.
The boys team will compete at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Wamego Country Club. The girls race will begin at noon Saturday.