The Olathe East High School girls' track team has won the last five Kansas Class 6A state championships, and the Hawks sure looked ready for a run at title No. 6 during the regional meet last Friday at the Olathe District Activity Center.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Coach Mike Wallace’s girls racked up 199 points, beating runner-up Gardner Edgerton by 123, but don’t hand another championship trophy to Olathe East just yet.
“Lawrence Free State is very, very good, and they are actually better or even with us,” Wallace said. “We’ll see who qualified out of their regional, but Lawrence Free State’s girls are very good.”
The Firebirds totaled 143 points and were led by junior standout Alexa Harmon-Thomas, topping runner-up Shawnee Mission North by 29 during its regional at Lawrence High School.
Thus, until further notice, the Hawks remain the team to beat led by a trio of athletes who won two events at the state-qualifying meet.
Junior Jasmine Thomas, who is the reigning state champ in the 100 meters, claimed regional titles in the 100 (12.50 seconds) and 200 (25.80). She hopes to strike gold in both events at state.
“I feel confident, and I think I can win both races,” Thomas said. “I fell in the (200) finals last year at state, but that has driven me. It showed what I need to do and makes me want to come back stronger. I grew up a little from that experience, but things happen sometimes, and I’ve just got to get up and keep going.”
Meanwhile, senior N’Dia Harris, a transfer from Shawnee Mission West who sat out the state meet last spring, harbors similar goals after winning the long jump (17 feet, 2 inches) and triple jump (36-1 1/2) at the regional meet.
“It was hard not to compete last year, and it’s my last season now, so I want to go out really big and strong at state,” said Harris, who took up the triple jump only last month.
Finally, distance specialist Brenna McDannold knows that the title chase is wide open, thanks to defending 1,600 and 3,200 champion Alli Cash’s injury, a stress fracture that prevented the SM West senior from competing at the regional meet.
“It definitely feels open for anybody to come and get, but it will feel a lot different without her,” McDannold said. “We’ve all known for a couple of years now that Alli was going to be pretty dominant, so we all expected her to win.
“It’s exciting, especially for her senior year, but it’s also hard because we’ve all become friends as distance runners. It will be strange without having her there.”
McDannold also said the stakes will seem a bit higher and the butterflies will be more intense without Cash in the state field.
“It was almost less nerve-wracking when you go in and know that you probably don’t have a chance to win,” McDannold said. “When you know there’s a 99.9-percent chance you won’t win, you don’t have to worry about it. Now, though, it’s open, so it makes me a little more nervous.”
Gardner Edgerton’s girls also flexed some muscle at the regional meet with senior Danie Plank, a three-time state champion, winning the javelin (147-9) despite a midweek injury.
“The tail of the javelin hit my back on a throw in practice Wednesday,” Plank said. “I pulled down on the javelin pretty hard, and it got my back. My arm’s pretty sore, so I scratched my final throws.”
Fellow Trailblazers senior Cassie Wait, a two-time state champion, won the pole vault (12-4).
“It was a rough start,” Wait said. “I wanted to keep everything exciting, but 12-4 is a good baseline going into state. With a good week of practice, I think I can go really high.”
Plank and Wait posted the top regional marks and will be the favorites to snag gold during the state meet, which begins Friday and wraps up Saturday at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium.
Of course, there are dozens of other Johnson County competitors in the same boat. Each of the following competitors had the top regional performance in qualifying for state:
CLASS 6A BOYS: Olathe South senior Chris Coleman (200, 22.08); Olathe South sophomore Tanner Green (400, 49.43); SM Northwest senior Jackson Barbour (800, 1:54.07); Blue Valley senior Colton Donahue (1,600, 4:14.89); SM Northwest junior Connor McDonald (3,200, 9:46.05); Olathe North junior Kai Shean (high jump, 6-10); Olathe East junior Caelan Neal (triple jump, 45-8); Olathe South junior Braden Smith (discus, 178-6, and shot put, 57-6). Plus, Olathe South 400 relay (42.17), SM Northwest 1,600 relay (3:20.90) and SM North 3,200 relay (8:05.52).
CLASS 6A GIRLS: SM East senior Emma Vickers (400, 58.04); Olathe Northwest freshman Cameron Gueldner (3,200, 11:08.10); SM East senior Grace Pickell (high jump, 5-6); Plank (javelin, 147-9) and Wait (pole vault, 12-4) along with Olathe East 3,200 relay (9:50.96).
CLASS 5A BOYS: SM South senior Jake Caldwell (400, 48.8) and St. James Academy 3,200 relay (8:03.88).
CLASS 5A GIRLS: Bishop Miege sophomore Ashanti Hutton (200, 25.44, and 400, 57.09); Mill Valley senior Emily Brigham (long jump, 19-4, and pole vault, 13-1) along with St. James Academy 1,600 relay (4:06.01) and St. Thomas Aquinas 3,200 relay (9:58.48).