Column: KVL cross-country meet finds Bobcats, Braves peaking before regionals
Thursday’s Kaw Valley League cross-country meet arrives at an interesting time and place: eight days away from Oct. 20’s regional meet, and at that meet’s same location of Wyandotte County Park in Bonner Springs.
This year’s league meet finds two programs in Basehor-Linwood and Bonner Springs that are running their best at this time of year — in some cases the best in their school’s history.
Mill Valley will enter Thursday as the favorite, but Bobcats and Braves runners will be more interested in seeing how they stack up against one another and another contender like Tonganoxie. Mill Valley’s 5A status will keep the Jaguars out of Wyandotte County Park the following week, but Basehor-Linwood, Bonner Springs, Bishop Ward, Piper and Tonganoxie will all be back for the regional meet.
If recent results are any indication, expect the Bobcats and Braves to continue their upward trend. Just last week, in separate events, each school put together strong showings: Bonner Springs picking up two victories at the Wyandotte County Invitational, and Basehor-Linwood’s boys team running away with the Pleasant Ridge Invitational.
The Bobcats’ boys runners took the event title by claiming six of the top 10 spots in their race. Luke McGowan led the way with a third-place finish after a time of 17:50. Behind McGowan was Mark Vitt (fifth, 18:24), Johnny Fulkerson (sixth, 18:29), Casey Jones (seventh, 18:33), Tanner Tavis (eighth, 18:34) and Jacob Cook (ninth, 18:38). Daniel Tady placed 17th with a time of 19:23.
In all the Bobcats had a comfortable grip on first place at 29 points, with Tonganoxie coming in second at 51.
“The boys have a good thing going,” coach Jeff Venema said. “Our problem is that our competition is very, very good.”
On the girls side for the Bobcats, Quinnlyn Walcott continued to lead her team with another top 10 finish, this time placing seventh with a time of 16:24. Rebecca Carroll placed 12th with a 16:44 finish and Ally Laney placed 18th with a 17:31.
Haley Stallbaumer (22nd, 17:55) and Sara Rehm (25th, 18:15) rounded out the top 25.
Walcott, a state qualifier a year ago, has a firm grip on the role of team leader on a girls team not featuring as much depth as its counterparts. Venema hesitated to call Walcott’s year great just yet, but added that opportunities for greatness still lay ahead. Though in this Kansas regional, the path to the stars is not without hardship.
“To make state two years in a row would be really something because of the talent everyone else has,” Venema said. “It’s difficult to do, but if anyone can do it, Quinnlyn can.”
Keep an eye on the battle between Walcott and Bonner Springs’ Mandy Ballou in the next two weeks. Ballou set a new school record last week with her 16:42 second-place finish at the Wyandotte County Invitational.
Both Bonner Springs’ girls and boys cross-country teams won the event. On the girls side, fourth- through eighth-place also belonged to Braves runners in Taylor Vanden Hull (17:19), Kennedy Bacon (17:59), Tanya Hernandez (18:10), Faith Seaton (18:18) and Tessa Newberry (18:55).
In all, nine girls and eight boys placed in the top 15 of their respective races. Citlally Alvarado (11th, 18:55), Addison Tolliver (14th, 19:53) and Lilli Eickhoff (15th, 19:54) rounded out the girls’ top performers.
“The girls are really starting to come together and are quickly learning how to compete,” Bonner Springs girls coach Rob Marriott said.
Austin Schuler (first, 17:38), Joe Casteel (second, 17:48) and T.J. Kimbrough-French (third, 18:06) helped give the Braves a second victory on the day. Thomas Hook (fifth, 18:17) and Zach Quigley (eighth, 19:09) rounded out the top 10 and were followed closely by Jake Wenzel (11th, 19:31), Tre Scott (13th, 19:57) and D.J. Simpson (15th, 20:39).
Similar narratives exist on the boys side for both Bonner Springs and Basehor-Linwood. Prior to the season’s start, the Bobcats lost their senior leader, Joe Levinson, to a foot injury. Levinson will finally have his boot removed this week, but it is unsure whether he will suit up again. Venema did say Levinson may throw on his uniform to at least cheer on his teammates.
Until last week, the Braves were also without their team captain, Kimbrough-French, who injured his foot early last month. That he placed third while “testing his foot out” had Braves boys coach Bill Downing very happy.
“He did a remarkable job of being patient and reserved and still got third,” Downing said. “It shows what a great team captain he has become because he helped our entire team become much better.”
There is very little that the Bobcats do that the Braves are not privy of, and vice-versa, Venema said. So with Kimbrough-French’s absence in mind, Venema still called this one of the best boys teams Bonner Springs has had in years.
“The challenge has been thrown down,” Venema said. “We ran really well, but I think they ran better.”
In the KVL, that awareness applies to just about every program, Venema said. So much so that he said Thursday’s league meet isn’t necessary to provide the Bobcats with an idea of what to expect the following week.
“Let it roll,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”
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