Dealing with the pressure that comes along with a Number 1 ranking, in any sport, is a difficult task.
Consider the Manhattan High boys’ cross country team unfazed.
The Indians entered its top seven runners in the varsity boys’ race and all seven came across the finish line before any athletes from other schools, giving the boys’ team a rare seven-man sweep and giving the Indians the lowest recordable score, a 15.
“I think I’m about speechless on that,” Manhattan coach Susan Melgares said. “I knew they were looking to sweep. I didn’t realize that sweep would go seven deep, so that’s amazing. It’s amazingly cool to have that happen, and they did it because of their summer work and their tight team unity, so I’m proud of that even more than the results.”
Chris Melgares (16:09.0) finished first overall to lead the Indians, and got to celebrate with his teammates as they came across the finish line in order. Michael Melgares (2nd, 16:30.7), Isaiah Koppes (3rd, 16:31.5), Jack Keeley (4th, 16:35.5), Josue Alvarado (5th, 16:39.9), Nick Bandy (6th, 16:56.3) and Jackson Schroeder (7th, 16:58.1) were right behind and all finished under the 17-minute mark. To put that number in perspective, only Chris Melgares finished sub-17 a year ago at Warner Park to open the season.
“It’s huge,” Chris Melgares said. “I don’t know that I can ever remember anyone going through five, let alone the full seven. It’s just awesome when you look back and you see six other guys behind you on your own team.”
Susan Melgares said she’s never seen a team be so dominant in a cross-country varsity race.
“When I first started at Emporia, they had five sweep the ‘B’ race, and I remember being very impressed by that,” she said. “So this hasn’t sunken in yet. But it’s still the first meet — we have to take it with a grain of salt, this isn’t our end-all, be-all goal.”
While the boys were busy celebrating, the girls’ team followed up the performance with a solid effort, putting three runners in the top four and winning the meet by 42 points.
Senior Alaina Schroeder (14:58.1) won well ahead of freshman teammate Cara Melgares (2nd, 16:09.6) to give the Indians the top two finishers. Megan Ochoa (16:26.5) took third to bolster the team score, with Katherine Culbertson (11th, 16:53.2) and Taylor Efurd (18th, 17:17.4) right behind to round out the winning team score of 34. Molly Bollman (26th, 18:06.7) and Kimberly Rebecca (30th, 18:20.5) rounded out the varsity finishers.
“Having three of the top four, with Cara and Megan following up Alaina is good,” Susan Melgares said. “We need to just tighten up our pack and really get from two through five together. But our four and five runners were tired, and they found ways to suck it up and fight for the team. And they did it, because of their team, so I’m really proud of that.”
Alaina Schroeder said watching the boys’ team do well helped get the girls’ team pumped up and ready to go.
“That was really cool to see that happen,” she said. “I’m glad that they ran first. It’s definitely a confidence booster, to get our first one out of the way and do well as a team and individually.”
While the room for improvement is still there for all of Manhattan’s athletes, Schroeder says the girls’ team now knows what it needs to do to get better.
“We just went out and did our best, and everybody did well for their first meet,” Schroeder said. “We can just get go up from here. We can always get better, and maybe pack up more and leave less space between us. It worked for the boys.”
While the boys’ team has the same lofty goals as last year — a state championship — the team’s performance indicates they will have a chance.
While the Manhattan Invitational brings in good teams, Chris Melgares said the team knows it will run in tougher meets and can’t be satisfied with Saturday’s results.
“We’ve got to keep this consistency,” he said. “And to win state, we need to lower our times a bit more, but we’re on track and it’s good progress.”
The senior said it’s tough sometimes running without competition close behind to push him.
“You always do better when you have competition that’s closer to you,” Chris Melgares said. “I know today, it was racing against the clock, but there will be a time when we have stiffer competition to go against.”
While life as the No. 1 team in Class 6A is nice, Chris Melgares said it’s where the team sits at the end of the year that matters most.
“That’s where we want to be at the end of the season,” he said. “We know just because we’re No. 1 right now, that doesn’t mean anything. We know we have to work hard and that’s what we’ll be doing. We want to hold the ranking.”
For Susan Melgares, just watching her team have so much success after a grueling summer of offseason workouts made for an enjoyable morning.
“It’s amazing to me, and humbling to me,” she said. “I’m so proud of them, and training in the heat, you know what the heat has been like, and I see them in practice and how hard they’re working. So to come out and enjoy the fruits of your labor, it’s very fun for me.”
Wamego boys take 2nd
The Wamego Red Raiders boys’ team opened its season right behind the Indians in the team standings, taking second after Manhattan swept the top seven.
Sophomore Jacob Davis was the top finisher for the Red Raiders, taking eighth place in a time of 17:30.3. Senior Ryan Bates (17:52.7) finished in 13th place to bolster the team score, with Kent Chrest (20th, 18:06.9), Ethan Artzer (23rd, 18:17.5) and Matt Scherer (26th, 18:26.9) rounding out the scoring.
“We lost a lot of kids from last year, so it was good to see where we are at,” Wamego coach Rick Patton said. “I thought they ran pretty solid, so I was pleased with that.”
After winning state a year ago, the Red Raiders are trying to keep improving each week with its new lineup.
“We had some kids that had run varsity since they were freshmen and sophomores, but some of these guys have been waiting for three years for their opportunity,” Patton said. “But it’s their team, so it’s up to them how hard they want to work.”
The Wamego girls’ team took fifth in the varsity race, with Allison Seufert (3rd, 16:19.1) leading the way and Alexis Pettay (14th, 17:06.4) and Madeline Phillips (20th, 17:25.7) also medaling.
“With the girls, we have a big gap between our three and four,” Patton said. “So that’s something we’ll have to continue to work on. It’s about where we thought it would pan out. We know what we need to work on, so we’ll keep working on it.”
Flint Hills Christian runs two
Kirk Stewart (44th, 19:04.6) and Grant Wagner (47th, 19:11.0) both ran the boys’ varsity race for the Eagles. Flint Hills also had three runners in the JV race.