For six months now, the Manhattan High cross country team has had one goal in mind.
On Saturday, the team gets its chance to turn dreams into reality.
Running in the Class 6A state cross country meet at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, the Indians are the favorites to take the team title after leading the 6A coaches rankings most of the season.
With so much on the line, head coach Susan Melgares wants the team to keep things simple this weekend.
“We really just need to go out and do our thing,” Melgares said. “They have trained for this — we’ve run at Warner (Park) trying to get as close to the Rim Rock situation as we can. The kids are ready, and they need to treat it like any race. They need to run to win, and Good Lord willing, that’s what’ll happen.”
With a 17 team score in last week’s Junction City regional, which was 54 points ahead of second-place Wichita North, the Indians have both the top-end runners and the depth to do some damage this weekend, even among the state’s best teams and individual runners.
“It’s good that we know we’re not the second or third place team,” senior Nick Bandy said. “(Other teams) have to find a strategy to beat us. For us, we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Senior Chris Melgares, Manhattan’s top runner all season, wants nothing less than a championship, though he did say he is hoping to finish in the top three as an individual.
“A team state championship is definitely the No. 1 goal we have,” he said. “We’re just trying to do our best individually, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to matter how we do individually as long as we win the state championship.
“I’m looking to be top three, for sure. I want to score as few points for the team as I can, so I’ll be gunning for the top guys in the state.”
Junior Isaiah Koppes said the team is as ready as it’s ever going to be.
“I feel like we’re definitely prepared for this,” Koppes said, “because this is what we’ve trained for all season long, and all summer.”
In order to get the title, Manhattan will lean on a trio of quality newcomers, including home-school transfer Jack Keeley, sophomore Josue Alvarado, who came to Manhattan last spring, and freshman Jackson Schroeder.
For Keeley, joining such a stacked team has been worth it.
“I didn’t really know what it was going to be like, coming from home school, but it’s been awesome training with these guys,” he said. “Just from the start, these guys made it clear that (a title) was the goal. We’ve put in the work, hopefully we can go take it.”
In the case of Alvarado, the training regiment of the group’s upperclassmen was an adjustment, but one he’s made in stride.
“It’s been nice to run with these guys, because they’re pretty good at what they do,” Alvarado said. “This is my first year doing cross country, so I’ve been training a lot harder than in track season.”
For Schroeder, running against boys several years older hasn’t been an issue, especially with help from his teammates to push him along.
“It’s been pretty good, but pretty tough,” Schroeder said of the season. “They’ve definitely been pushing me, for sure. I’m really lucky to be a freshman and join a team that’s so good. It’s awesome.”
While the team has been dominant all season, they’ve had to do some of their damage without the help of junior Michael Melgares, who has been bothered by injury the second half of the season. The younger Melgares said he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.
“My foot’s pretty much 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve had a couple nagging things lately, but it shouldn’t be a problem for the state meet.”
Michael Melgares said last year’s team, which also had talent but fell short of a state title, taught them how hard it is to get to this point.
“It helps you realize how hard it is to go win a state championship,” he said. “It shows the work necessary to do that. But I think next year we’ll have a good shot at it, too.”
The boys’ 6A race is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. in Lawrence.