Rivalry resumes at league championship
The field at Saturday's Haskell Indian Nations University Invitational in Lawrence was far from the largest the De Soto cross country team had faced this season.
It was another race that pitted the Wildcats against some of the state's best competition, however, and once the Cats crossed the finish line -- the boys team in second and the girls in third -- De Soto finally declared itself ready.
The next 17 days won't include the most challenging meets of the season. They will include the most important, however, as the Cats head Thursday to league, Oct. 20 to regionals and Oct. 27 to state.
"Our end goal is still winning that last week of the year," De Soto coach Chris McAfee said. "We're still going to approach this week as a learning experience, learn how we race best and get ready for the next two weeks."
Saturday's race capped a furious month of preparation by the team for that final gauntlet, and McAfee said the final tune-up went well.
The boys, second in a nine-team field, had 46 points, seven behind Olathe East and ahead of many of the region's giants, Lawrence Free State, Manhattan, Shawnee Mission East filing in for third through fifth.
Colin Jokisch rebounded for an injury-plagued race last week to finish second in 16 minutes, 50 seconds, just eight seconds back of the race champion, Kiki Mendoza of Takini.
After Jokisch, the Cats banded together, the next four finishing in a seven-runner, 25-second window. Cristian Dozier was eighth in 17:23, Lucas Slater ninth in 17:24, Jerin Riffel 12th in 17:35 and Trey Lind 15th in 17:47.
"We really needed that on the guys side," McAfee said. "I was really pleased. A lot of those guys PRed or came close, and they ran intelligent races. It was a good confidence boost."
The girls neither finished as high nor as compact, but it was still good enough for a rally after a disappointing showing at the Rim Rock Farm's Classic, McAfee said.
The team finished with 74 points, well behind race winner Olathe East with 29 and Free State with 45, but ahead of Olathe South, Shawnee Mission East, Manhattan and Shawnee Mission Northwest.
Carly Stanley led the way in ninth, finishing in 16:14, Lacey Erickson right on her heals, one spot and four seconds behind.
Shelbie Petty was 14th in 16:30.
Maddy Frehe and Chesney Burgweger ran together, finishing 20th and 21st respectively and in 16:37 and 16:28.
Hannah Jokisch, in her second race with the varsity team, was 30th in 16:54 in the 68-runner field, while Beth Reichenberger, in her first race with the team, was 38th in 17:21.
The Cats ran without Ellie Sheridan, one of their top runners from the early parts of the season, and senior Trish Roberts. Sheridan, nursing an injury, could return by regionals while Roberts continues to battle injuries that have slowed her all season. She could also return before the end of the season.
"Third place was good, but more importantly, looking at it individual wise, we ran better," McAfee said. "That's what we wanted to get out of the day, to get more confidence going into the end of the season. It made me feel better, and it made them feel better."
The level of competition has kept the team focused in recent weeks, but a new level of seriousness comes with Thursday's Frontier League championship. The Cats return to Rim Rock Farm north of Lawrence, and return to action against one of their primary competitors in the race for the Class 4A state title, Baldwin.
It figures to be a two-team race for the league title.
The De Soto girls beat the Bulldogs the first two times they ran together this season, but fell 104 points behind when the teams most recently matched up Sept. 29 at Rim Rock.
The boys have held off Baldwin each of the three times they've butted heads this season, most recently at Rim Rock by 17 points.
"Baldwin has had such a stranglehold on the league titles for years, so it'd be pretty cool to win those," McAfee said. "We haven't had a chance to really match up with them since Wamego (Sept. 8). They're going to be feeling us out and we're going to be feeling them out."