LAWRENCE — I’ll be honest — I don’t consider myself all that knowledgeable when it comes to the sport of cross country.
But I know dominance when I see it.
Saturday at Rim Rock Farm, I saw it. The Manhattan High boys’ cross country team finished the race 78 points ahead of second-place Wichita North with a team score of 27, giving them the second-best score of any Class 6A team in a state championship race in Kansas history.
Of course, with four guys in the top seven and all five scorers in the top 11, a low score was inevitable. But even its non-scorers ran solid races. Michael Melgares, who ran through nagging injuries the second half of the season, managed to medal but not contribute to his team’s score.
You almost have to feel for Nick Bandy.
He finished in 31st place — no easy task — and improved his time from last year’s state meet by 49 seconds.
The kid ran his heart out for four years at Manhattan High, logging (literally) thousands of miles in training and would have been a top scorer for dozens of 6A teams across Kansas.
Instead, he spent most of his senior year running hard, but doing so behind a pack of elite high school distance runners. Fortunately, his efforts were rewarded with a state championship and the opportunity to go down in Manhattan High history as a member of one of the best teams to come through the program.
To his credit, Bandy was a team player all the way, encouraging his teammates and inspiring the younger athletes to keep training hard and plugging along, knowing their success would move him down in the pecking order.
Following the team this season, what struck me the most was the strong team dynamic displayed. In a sport where individual success is as much a part of the sport as anything else, these guys ran for each other. They logged miles in practice and ran in a tight pack in most meets, spurring each other on toward greatness.
Sure, Chris Melgares was the top finisher in every race Manhattan’s varsity ran in this year. But it’s no coincidence that the Indians took fifth, sixth and seventh on Saturday. Considering three of Manhattan’s top five were newcomers to the team this year, the team unity and accountability was special.
Looking forward, this group still has the opportunity to lead the track team in the spring before seniors Chris Melgares, Jack Keeley and Bandy move on.
But next season, Manhattan will still be loaded. Led by Michael Melgares and Isaiah Koppes, the team will also bring back Josue Alvarado and Jackson Schroeder, meaning MSH will return four runners among the top 20 in the state. That puts the Indians just one runner away from another dominant year and perhaps a repeat title in Class 6A.
After watching this team all year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them defend their title and bring home coach Susan Melgares’ second championship.
You can reach Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @grantguggisberg.