As the Manhattan High cross country team has continued to improve each year under coach Susan Melgares, the raw number of participants has grown with it.
It’s no surprise then, that the 2013 cross country season will feature Melgares’ biggest team. More than 60 athletes participated in Saturday’s annual time trial to decide who will run varsity at the season-opening meet two weeks from today at Warner Park in Manhattan.
Melgares said annual success in the Centennial League and even the state level has helped attract new runners to the program.
“It’s curious,” she said. “I think word of mouth is going around, I think these kids are proud of what they’re doing. And I think they’re talking about it as a fun activity — in a hard way — but they’re proud and the enthusiasm is spreading.”
Seniors Chris Melgares and Alaina Schroeder, the top runners for both the boys’ and girls’ teams a year ago, both said they do everything they can to make the experience enjoyable, though the work isn’t easy.
“All of us try to focus on making it something that other kids will enjoy,” Chris Melgares said. “Some kids are scared when they hear how many miles you’ll run everyday, but we’ve been trying to make it cool and make it something people will like.”
For Melgares and teammate Nick Bandy, those miles added up over the summer. The two each logged more than 700 miles in training.
“Daily it’s about 10 or 11 miles on average,” he said. “I’d say weekly about 60-65 total. So it definitely takes some dedication, but it’s a lot easier when you have your whole team out there pushing you.”
For the boys’ team, a state championship remains the ultimate goal after finishing in sixth place a year ago.
“That’s all we’re out here for, honestly,” Chris Melgares said. “We want to have fun and everything, but we want a state championship at the end of the year.”
Bandy said it was the goal of a team title that pushed him to increase his mileage over the summer.
“When I ran all those miles this summer I was just thinking about a state championship,” he said. “That’s my drive — to do good at state. And I want the team to win, so I tried not just to get myself out there running those miles, but get all of our team out there. What you do over the summer, really, is what decides the state title.”
Susan Melgares said she hopes her team will be in the hunt for a team title at the state meet this fall.
“We want to be looking at the top of the state as a team,” she said. “I feel like if everybody does what they’re capable of and keeps putting one foot in front of the other, we’ll be very competitive at the end. Of course, it’s always a point of pride if you can win Centennial, so we don’t ignore that, but we would like to be at or near the top at the state meet.”
She expects newcomers Jack Keeley, Josue Alvarado and freshman Jackson Schroeder to help immediately.
“Jackson Schroeder ran really tough today — he’s a great competitor,” Susan Melgares said. “We also got a little help, we had a transfer in the spring with Josue Alvarado, and then Jack Keely was homeschooled, and is now running for us and attending Manhattan High.”
In the time trial, Chris Melgares led the pack and finished first in a time of 16:13.88. His brother Michael Melgares was second (16:49.03), with Isaiah Koppes (3rd, 16:49.63) just a step behind. Newcomer Jack Keeley (4th, 16:59.98), Bandy (5th, 17:16.06), freshman Jackson Schroeder (6th, 17:41.13) and Josue Alvarado (7th, 18:04.66) rounded out the top seven times for the boys.
On the girls’ side, the team returns top runner Alaina Schroeder but lost several key seniors. If the team is to replicate its success at the state level after last year’s sixth-place finish in the team standings, they’ll need some younger girls to step in and compete at a high level. Freshman Cara Melgares will be near the top after taking second behind Schroeder in the time trial. Newcomer Kimberly Ribecca also finished in the top seven and could contribute right away.
“Cara is a freshman coming in,” Susan Melgares said. “She’s our only freshman in the top seven. Kim is a new student here and she made our top seven, so that’s nice to get those additions. Megan (Ochoa) and Alaina have both competed at state previously, so they’re good, strong returners. And Taylor (Efurd) and Molly (Bollman) have been solid, but we’re looking for them to keep on improving and keep getting closer to our front.”
Schroeder won handily in the time trial (15:07.50), with Cara Melgares in second (16:18.19) and Ochoa in third (16:48.40). Katherine Culbertson (16:55.44), Efurd (17:22.44), Bollman (17:25.40) and Ribecca (17:44.44) rounded out the top seven.
Susan Melgares said the team goal for the girls is to repeat as league champs and go from there.
“Definitely to win league and put a strong five together by the state meet,” she said. “We have some pieces of the puzzle that need to be filled, but I’m looking for some big improvement with some of these kids.”
Perhaps the best athlete with a chance to bring home individual hardware at state is Alaina Schroeder, who took third place in the 6A race a year ago and finished second as a sophomore. Both of those races were won by Shawnee Mission West’s Alli Cash, who graduated in the spring and now runs at the University of Oregon, leaving Schroeder with a better opportunity to win a state title.
“If anytime, it’s now I guess,” Schroeder said. “The opportunity is out there, so I just have to try my best and hopefully state will be in my near future.”