Bobcat runners savor home-course advantage
When the varsity girls race begins and the runners sprint from the starting line down the opening straightaway today at Wyandotte County Park, Basehor-Linwood cross country coach Jeff Venema will eagerly watch and follow to see how his athletes perform.
He will track them throughout the course, running to strategic spots to gauge their mile splits. He is anxious to see how everything comes together this season.
The Bobcats worked hard during the summer, attending camps and training in the weight room to prepare for today’s Basehor-Linwood Invitational. The meet opens the season and starts the two-month march toward the state championships.
Venema is excited for that journey to begin.
Last year, BLHS lost numerous runners to graduation. Remaining are three runners who have competed in the Class 4A state championships in Ally Laney, Hannah Tush and Jonathan Oliva.
All three will be expected to lead the way this season.
“We had a lot of seniors graduate last year,” Venema said. “These kids coming up now are anxious to come up and claim it. As a coach, you feel optimistic when you see how hard they work in the summer.”
The varsity roster for today’s meet is based on time trials that occurred last week. The boys’ roster features Oliva, Eli Elliott, Joe Levinson, Johnny Fulkerson, Mark Vitt, Tanner Tavis and Casey Jones.
The girls’ lineup will include Laney, Tush, Quinnlyn Walcott, Haley Stallbaumer, Rebecca Carroll, Keirsen Lindelof and Sarah Rehm.
Each of the runners has performed well in practice.
“I feel like the team’s conditioning is pretty good,” Venema said. “Now we have a chance to see what we have against real completion. It is exciting, it’s fun and I am looking forward to it.”
The Bobcats have dominated the meet since it began four years ago with former Kansas congressman and running legend Jim Ryun speaking to the assembled group after the inaugural race.
The BLHS girls are the three-time defending champions of the Basehor-Linwood Invitational. The boys won it the past two years after losing to Jefferson West the first year.
With that in mind, the Bobcats have their sights set on taking first place in the team standings in both varsity races again this year.
“I expect to win,” Venema said. “We have a bunch of kids who are pretty competitive. They have been working hard this summer and in practice. Our outlook is to try and win the thing. The girls have won the first three years. The boys won the last two years. We have a streak going and we would like keep going if we can.”
The meet, which begins at 3:30 p.m. with middle school races, will feature more than 400 runners.
Among the schools participating are Bonner Springs, Piper, Ottawa, Pleasant Ridge, Silver Lake, Sumner Academy and Washington.
The BLHS booster club will supply hot dogs and snacks to runners after the meet. Community National Bank will supply food and drinks to runners as well.
“The support we get from the community and booster club is tremendous,” Venema said. “We try to put together as accommodating a meet as anybody, and more so than most.”