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State cross country; Victoria takes team to Wamego; Wheatland-Grinnell in good position


Victoria High School cross country coach Randy Stanley has built the Knights into one of the strongest Class 1A boys cross country teams. From 2010 to 2012, the Knights finished 10th, sixth and third at the state meet. Victoria graduated all-state runners Jublain Wohler and Isaac Dreiling for this season. The Knights had a full varsity and junior varsity squad in 2012, but dropped to just five runners this fall.

Before the fall, Ryan Dreiling, expected to be the team's top runner, suffered an injury. Most of the year, Dreiling just rode the bike before he returned to running a few weeks ago. Senior Jacob Stoffel was ill and finally felt OK to run at regional.

Several runners, especially sophomore Jacy Braun, showed improvement during the year. However, at the Class 1A Wheatland-Grinnell regional last Saturday, Victoria faced strong competition from powerhouse Scandia-Pike Valley and three other squads. The top three qualified for state.

"I was really, really nervous going to regionals," Stanley said. "I knew if the kids ran well, then we would have a chance, but having Pike Valley come into our regional, that changed things a lot, and I knew that they would be very tough."

Before the race, Stanley told his team, "Everybody is here, everybody is halfway healthy, let's put it together."

Victoria did -- and qualified for state in unusual fashion. Rarely does a cross country team reach state without a frontrunner, but the Knights accomplished the feat. Pike Valley won with 28 points, while Natoma was second with 32 points and Victoria took third at 47. Quinter was fourth with 54 and Stockton fifth at 57. The Wallace County girls reached state in a similar way in the girls' race.

Victoria runs at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning at Wamego Country Club. The 1A girls' race is 10 a.m. Knights sophomore Kylie Schmidtberger qualified for the second straight year with a seventh-place finish in 17:54.

"I was really excited when we made it," Stanley said.

Victoria trailed Quinter and Stockton after the first and second runners. Quinter had 11 points, Stockton had 18 and Victoria had 20. After the third runners, Quinter stood at 31, Victoria at 33 and Stockton at 34. The last runner proved the difference. Victoria gained seven spots on Quinter and nine on Stockton.

"That's why we have had success is because we have been that close," Stanley said.

Braun, the team's fourth or fifth runner earlier in the year, led the Knights with a 13th place finish in 19 minutes, 10 seconds. Ryan Dreiling took 17th, while Stoffel was 18th and senior Taylor Schmidtberger took 20th. Junior Ryan Bleske was the fifth runner at 25th place.

"That is one of my selling points of telling kids to come out is that everybody is important," Stanley said. "Every single person is very important when it comes to the scores."

Wallace County earns first state bid

Christy Hammer started the Wallace County cross country program five years ago. Last year, Annabelle Seeder was the Wildcats' only girl. This season, Hammer had a full team for the first time. Seeder, a sophomore, returned. Senior Liny Smith came out and freshman Abbi Escamilla transferred over from Weskan.

Freshman Mikaylah King had run junior high track for Hammer, but was out several weeks in cross country. She returned three weeks ago and placed in the top-15. After that, Hammer knew the team had a chance to reach state.

Last Saturday, the Wildcats collected the state bid with 53 points, one ahead of Scandia-Pike Valley for the third and final spot. Wheatland-Grinnell took first with 24 points and Downs-Lakeside was second with 30 points. Hammer "never would have guessed" Wallace County would have come this far. After regional, Seeder told Hammer that she was surprised the team had enjoyed such a big turnaround.

"It's amazing," Hammer said. "I've just really been kind of on Cloud Nine here for the last week."

Escamilla finished in 16th place at 19:25, while King was a spot and three seconds behind. Seader took 20th in 20:07, and Smith was 25th in 20:34.

"We kind of run middle of the pack, and kind of run together," Hammer said. "We don't have one individual that really dominates."

Wheatland-Grinnell girls in good position; Natoma boys in

The Thunderhawk girls delivered a regional victory with 24 points. Junior Taylor Tustin remains a state favorite after she took second at 16:03, two seconds behind Mankato-Rock Hills freshman Sarena Meier. Junior Lacey Ostmeyer was third, freshman Brooke Bixenman took 11th and junior Kylie Wood was 19th.

Tustin finished second last season in 16:04.20 and was 11th as a freshman in 17:07.13.

Natoma finished second on the boys' side with all four runners in the top 16: sophomore Joey Raat (eighth), junior Bryce Ginther (10th), junior Jacob Chambray (15th) and sophomore Dean Masters (16th). Raat, Chambray and Masters were key players on Natoma's 5-4 football team. The night before regionals, Natoma played in a 50-34 loss to Logan-Palco