Runners prevail through adversity to capture team titles


Luke Gleason fights with Smoky Valley runner for first place

Drew Hanson, Lead Editor

Last Saturday at Wamego country club the Southeast of Saline cross country dynasty returned, now on both the girls and guys teams. The boys won their third straight title, ousting Smoky Valley 48-52, while the girls avenged last year’s runner up placing with a dominant 62-78 win over Scott Community. 

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a change of scenery, as normally 3A runners compete at KU’s rim rock farm course outside of Lawrence. Both courses feature aggravating hills–with Rim Rocks’ featuring short & steep hills while Wamegos’ are long & grueling. “Wamego was the most difficult course I have ever raced on. We had to go up and back down the same difficult hill several times. There was never a flat spot,” said senior Spencer Smith. 

Despite difficulties, this isn’t to say that the teams did not prepare. In fact, the opposite is true. “This year we did many hard workouts like 800 meter repeats and start-finish drill. After we learned that we were running at Wamego for stare we began doing more hill workouts,” said Junior Joel Kejr. 

Despite preparations, adversity ensued. The boys only ran at full strength in two meets, the Abilene invitational and the NCAA league meet due to 2019 State Champion Dylan Sprecker being sidelined with a foot injury. They looked to bounce back in full force at state, but senior runner Dominic Jackson faced a foot injury of his own. Jackson, who placed fourth at last year’s state meet, fell back, but pushed through the pain to finish the race in 100th place. “The first 100m of the state race I felt something tear or just go really wrong in my foot. I was able to make it about another 800m before the pain was unbearable and I had to basically hobble on one foot the rest of the race wanting to just stop the whole time. I later found out I tore a ligament in the middle of my foot during the race,” said Jackson. 

The girls also faced adversity of their own, with illness striking the team numerous times throughout the season. Top runner and 2019 state champion Jentrie Alderson was sidelined or weakened for a number of meets due to illness, and quarantine restrictions on a few varsity runners required alternates Makenna Roths and Alaina Yianakopulos to move up for the regional meet.  The state meet scenario was  parallel to the boys experience, with third runner Savannah Sutton going down. “I have never felt the way I felt when I stopped. My body physically couldn’t go anymore. I am very disappointed in myself for not completing the race, especially since I only had about 800m left and it was state. But like I said, I physically couldn’t push any further. After about the first mile, my vision went blurry and I remember feeling so dizzy. When I stopped, I kept trying to get back up and that happened a couple of times until I finally had to just lay down. As I was trying to get back up before I completely stopped, I somehow spiked myself with my spikes just above my knee and that left a deep cut,” said Sutton. 

With the season completed, both squads look towards next year to continue their success. The boys team will lose Luke Gleason, Dominic Jackson, Spencer Smith, and Drew Hanson, but holds onto two all state runners in Dylan Sprecker in Damion Jackson. Joel Kerj, a steady upper seventeen minute 5k runner will also remain. The team will likely be aided by its depth in JV runners Nakari Morrical-Palmer, Drew Richardson, and Cayden Walker, who have all consistently broken twenty minutes in the 5k. They will also look at incoming freshmen who placed well as eighth graders. “I believe that the younger kids who are soon coming into high school have pretty good talent. I think they have a pretty good chance at winning state next year. The juniors and sophomores already have the depth, so they can pull the incoming freshman along,” said senior Spencer Smith. 

The girls squad is a different story, as they return the entirety of the top seven, who won this year’s meet by a considerable margin. The outlook for next season is put well by sophomore Ashley Prochazka, who told the Trojournal “We’re only going to get better from here.” The girls also may have a few freshman work their way into some varsity positions as well, according to junior Joni Schroeder. “We have a good chance of repeating getting the title of 3A state champions next year. We only had one senior this year and we are gaining three solid eighth grade runners, Abby, Cali, and Josie. I could see all three of them being successful next year in high school.”

The Southeast of Saline cross country team has faced tremendous challenges this season, but was able to pull through and secure both the boys and girls titles in the same year for the first time since the 90s. The program title total now sits at sixteen; eight for each team, but looks to expand upon that number in the seasons to come.