Gold medals and plaques were handed out to area teams like Halloween candy throughout Friday’s awards ceremony for the Kansas Class 5A and Class 6A state championships at Rim Rock Farm.
Four teams took home Kansas state title trophies: both squads from St. Thomas Aquinas, the Blue Valley boys and Olathe East girls.
But the standouts were Blue Valley West’s Stuart McNutt and Lawrence Free State’s Emily Venters, who both won back-to-back state championships.
“My goal was just to get out there, make my gap and keep extending it and enjoy it while I’m doing it,” McNutt said.
McNutt is an experienced racer who will attend the University of Tulsa next year to run.
“Cross country is one of those sports that you get out what you put in,” said McNutt, who finished with a time of 15 minutes, 24.50 seconds. “I really like knowing that the best guy is going to win. Being able to step on that line and just competing.”
Just a sophomore, Venters already has put herself on track to be one of the most dominant runners in recent Kansas history.
Her time of 14:52.20 was the only 4K mark under 15 minutes at the meet that featured a strong north wind.
“I just went in there and tried not to think about the wind. I just kept fighting through it and doing what I was doing,” Venters said.
Emily Downey of St. Thomas Aquinas won the 5A girls championship with a time of 15:06.20.
“We work really hard to have a tough mindset, so we used it to our advantage to push through it,” Downey said.
Coach Justin Wrigley enjoys having the chance to coach a gifted runner like Downey.
“It’s vital to have a frontrunner or just leaders,” Wrigley said. “The girls have that with Emily and it’s great having that leadership.”
The Saints were not done. They finished with seven of the top 14 runners in the girls division, going for an impressive team score of 19 points.
“For the girls, we have an exciting culture that’s very passionate about it and embraces the (runner) lifestyle,” Wrigley said.
That’s back-to-back titles for the St. Thomas Aquinas girls squad. Downey’s teammate, freshman Margaret Pigott, was second, just a few seconds behind her.
On the boys side, Aquinas dethroned Wichita Bishop Carroll, which had won five straight team titles, with a score of 58 points.
“We’ve never quite had the depth and Bishop Carroll has been so good,” Wrigley said. “They looked at it as a 12-month approach and the guys started going again in November after last year.”
In the 6A team divisions, it was a consistent winner and a newcomer.
With its first cross country title in school history, Blue Valley showed a great team effort with a 53-point victory in Class 6A.
“We’ve been working hard throughout this entire summer and this season,” said Blue Valley senior Joseph Gorthy, who finished in third place. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win state and we did that today.”
Diana Huber, who has been Blue Valley’s head coach for 12 years, was also thrilled by the win.
“It started to look real — that’s when we started freaking out a little bit,” she said with a laugh and a smile.
On the girls side, Olathe East captured its fifth title since 2006. A proven program, the Hawks showed with seven girls in the top 30.
“We ran a 26-second split on this course,” coach Tony Bozarth said. “The kids all stepped up together. They really all pulled together and ran as a team.”
But with all the hardware passed out, it was still McNutt and Venters who impressed the most on Friday.
And Venters, especially, was not planning on celebrating with many sweets on Halloween night.
“I think I’m just going to celebrate with my parents and my family. I’m probably not going trick or treating or anything,” she said with a laugh.
Other top team finishes on the day included Blue Valley West boys (5A), St. James Academy girls (5A) and Lawrence Free State girls (6A), who all finished in second place.
Connor Bost took second place behind his teammate McNutt in the 5A boys race.
The SM West girls team ended up in third place in 6A. Cameron Gueldner of Olathe Northwest finished in third place in the 6A girls race.