LAWRENCE — The scores hadn’t been tabulated, and the race hadn’t even ended yet.
It didn’t matter. For the Manhattan High boys’ cross country team, it was time to celebrate.
With four runners in the top seven and six in the top 20, the Indians won the Class 6A state cross country meet at Rim Rock Farm in a race that was never close.
Manhattan took the title with a 27 team score, while Wichita North took second with a 105.
With the race still not complete, the team swarmed coach Susan Melgares amidst tears, hugs and immense joy.
“Wow has been the word, from the time these guys went out and swept seven at the home meet,” Melgares said. “Then again today, to see that many of them up at the front — I’m so proud of them.”
Chris Melgares finished the race in a dead sprint to get past Blue Valley Northwest’s Sam Guinn in the final stretch to take second place individually (15:56.78). Behind him were Jack Keeley in fifth (16:11.87), Jackson Schroeder in sixth (16:12.36) and Josue Alvarado (16:20.51) in seventh. Isaiah Koppes (16:28.98) rounded out the team score in 11th place. Michael Melgares (17th, 16:40.93) didn’t contribute to the team score, but medaled, with Nick Bandy finishing in 31st place (16:59.87). All of Manhattan’s runners finished in less than 17 minutes.
Susan Melgares said the team made it look easy this year — but clearly the Indians had a special team.
“I can’t put that into words,” she said. “People don’t understand what it’s like. Our kids have made it look easy, so we started thinking, is the competition that tough? But then you look at our times, and we’re rockin’. And they did it again today. It’s stunning — I’m so proud of them.”
Melgares said the dominant finish is something she doesn’t usually see at the state meet.
“It’s just so wonderful to see it pay off like this in such a decisive effort, with so many in the front of this race,” she said. “I’ve been here many years and it’s not usually that way.”
For Chris Melgares, Saturday’s championship is the culmination of years of hard work.
“It means everything,” he said. “This is everything we’ve worked for since we didn’t qualify for state my freshman year. It’s so rewarding and satisfying.”
The victory was even sweeter for Chris and his brother Michael, as they got to be the team that delivered their mother and coach her first state title.
“It’s just awesome,” Chris said. “Living with her all these 10 years with her as coach, she’s been close with a couple girls’ teams, but it feels really cool to be able to bring her that first title.”
For Keeley, who transferred in after previously being home-schooled, the win was difficult to describe.
“It’s kind of surreal, honestly,” Keeley said. “But we’ve put in so much work together and been going at it really hard at practice every day, so I’m really thankful.”
The senior transfer said he wasn’t sure when he realized how good this team could be.
“Honestly, my confidence about it grew as the season went on,” Keeley said. “From the start, the guys that have been on the team for a long time like Chris and Nick were telling us we needed to have that goal. But after our first meet, I started to really think we could do this.”
Bandy finished seventh among his team, but was thinking about his teammates throughout the race.
“The whole race, I was behind these guys, but I was thinking about them for a lot of my race,” Bandy said. “As soon as I crossed the finish line, Pat Melgares told me that we’d won.”
The senior said the championship makes all the miles run in practice worth it.
“Chris and I have literally run thousands of miles together just him and I,” Bandy said. “It’s always been our dream to win a state cross country championship. Even though I didn’t contribute to the team score, my goal was to inspire the other guys to keep working hard. I’m so happy for them — to have five in the top 11, that’s ridiculous.”
For Chris, finishing in second was quite a feat with Guinn running ahead of him most of the race. As the runners approached the hill overlooking the finish line, he knew Guinn could be caught.
“When I got up to the Skyline, I looked up and realized he was pretty close to me,” he said. “About 50 meters out, I realized I was going to catch him.”
Chris said the title makes him proud to be a member of the team.
“You feel so much pride being on this team,” he said. “Everyone just works their butts off.”