Repeat already on the mind of state champion girls team
The question was first asked just minutes after the breathing had begun to slow and the sweat was finally dry.
The De Soto girls cross country team was the champions of the 2006 Class 4A state meet -- but what about next year?
Can the Wildcats repeat?
"I've already thought about it," Wildcat coach Chris McAfee said. "Just winning one state championship is pretty nice, but each year your goal is to win it, so we'd like to do the same next year."
He started thinking about it, and he started crunching the numbers too.
The math -- it works out, sort of. Make no mistake, there's a whole lot of miles to go before the Wildcats can think of hoisting another trophy, let alone the big one.
There's two of the most successful runners in De Soto history to replace, and there's a flock of freshman runners to incorporate into the program. There's unforeseen injuries to work around and blazing August practices to work through.
Heck, there's not even a guarantee all of this year's varsity underclassmen will return. But the numbers, they work out, at least for now McAfee said.
"Just looking at the state results without (De Soto seniors) Lauren (Karnitz) and Morgan (Frehe), and leaving every other team the same, we still come in second," McAfee said.
That's all next year though. McAfee said he's in no hurry to dismiss the memories of 2006. The De Soto girls team enjoyed the best season in program history, capturing their first-ever state title with a resounding 16-point win over defending champion and league rival Baldwin.
The Wildcats placed four runners in the races top 30, and all five scoring runners in the top 35.
Seniors Karnitz and Frehe and freshman Carly Stanley all earned individual medals as well.
The state meet was Oct. 28 -- a day that will not soon be forgotten.
"I think about it every day," McAfee said. "Of course I think about cross country every day anyway, but I still look back at the results.
"It's not hard thinking about winning the state championship."
A glance over the state results actually reveal a very young field. Graduation will hit De Soto as hard or harder than any of the other top teams. The Cats lose two of their top three runners -- athletes key not just when it came to adding up the scoring, but when it came to giving encouragement toward the end of a workout, or offering advice to first-time runners.
Baldwin will lose its second-best runner, but returns six of its seven state runners. Wamego, which was third at state also returns six of its top seven, losing only its No. 5 runner.
Only four of the state's top 15 runners were seniors, and two of those four were Wildcats.
No worries, McAfee said.
"It's a long ways away," he said. "One thing I've learned through coaching that used to make me really tense was losing quality runners. I was really stressed after losing some good kids. One thing I've learned, though, is that the kids step up.
"I don't know if that's been a unique thing, but our kids have done an outstanding job of stepping up and doing a great job of keeping our team good. I don't know if you can replace people, but other people bring new things to the team and things still work."
There are plenty of strong candidates to try and fill the gigantic hole Frehe and Kranitz left behind.
Stanley was actually De Soto's top finisher at state, finishing seventh and flying over the four-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 11 seconds. McAfee said it's not at all hard to see her growing into one of the state's best three or four runners.
Chesney Burgweger also returns. She was 28th at state, just ahead of fellow junior Trish Roberts. Becca Roberts, a freshman, was 45th, and classmate Maddy Frehe was 61st.
A number of other underclassmen saw at least a little varsity time, and McAfee said he has his eyes on junior high runners capable of making the leap to varsity, as well.
It was unclear whether Karnitz considered all of that in the moments following this year's state meet.
"Can they repeat?" she was asked.
"Repeat?" she said. "Hmmmm.....
"I don't know."
She folded her arms and paused for effect. A smile had been glued to her face almost from the instant she crossed the finish line, but it disappeared and she slowly surveyed the teammates gathered in the area, taking stock of what was coming back and what wasn't.
The smile returned.
"I don't know. They're going to have some awfully big shoes to fill," she said, an air of pride echoing in her voice. "This was my favorite team. All of our personalities matched.
"We were talking, every single one of those workouts we didn't think we were going to make it through, it all paid off in the end."