Susan Melgares’ cross country team saw what it could become Monday morning. Her Manhattan High boys’ and girls’ teams may have rushed past the Kansas State cross country team, but the moment lingered much longer in Melgares’ mind than the actual encounter.
“It was kind of cool to see the different of progression,” Melgares said. “If these kids on my team keep working hard, that’s where they will end up.”
Both the boys’ and girls’ varsity teams placed first in their opening meet at the Manhattan Cross Country Invitational Saturday morning.
Melgares and the Indians are a goal-seeking group for 2019. Every sports team probably can say that, but they’ve put the pressure on themselves. If the season goes the way the girls’ team wants, it could be a 10th consecutive Centennial League title and another top finish in the state. The boys team has redemption to fight for. They could be in the hunt for 10 straight, too, if they didn’t fall short in 2018, settling for second place.
Their streak ended at eight Centennial League titles.
“The guys are coming back feeling like they have something to prove to bring the plaque back to Manhattan,” Melgares said. “The girls have something to prove because there is this sentiment that our talent graduated. I think they have something to prove there, as well, and they want to try and make it a decade of Manhattan High wins.”
Melgares’ passion for her team and the sport gleams through her words and actions. Her own running career began with her mother. Melgares and her younger sister join their mother when she went out to run each mornings. Both were great runners, but Melgares learned to be a team-player fast, saying her sister would “kick her butt” and finish above her on the podium.
Melgares still was quite the runner in college at Emporia State too, earning NAIA All-American runners. She loves to run.
The issue is, she can’t at the moment.
“I have a foot injury I’m trying to kick right now,” Melgares said. “The doctor said don’t run, which is hard for me to avoid.”
Originally she kept running when she was first cautioned about it last fall, but starting in January she actually had to put her favorite activity on hold. It has been difficult for her, but the fact that she gets to battle back in conjunction with her close-knit team is alleviating.
“I told them about the foot because, honestly, I run the course a lot,” Melgares said. “If I want to be able to run again when the season ends I have to back off now. They have been pretty sympathetic. It is a challenge to keep up the pace, but I get a lot of support from the kids and they lift me up.”
Her confidence in her teams doesn’t waver on the line, either. While her girls’ team did lose some consistent contributors, the underclassmen are talented.
“Ella Rosenkranz is the only senior on the varsity right now,” Melgares said. “We will try to alleviate the pressure. I think having a lot of kids up there running strong will help. That’s the nice thing about cross country. In track, you just step on that starting line and might not have as much sense of sharing the load quite as much. You might have more people in your event, but in cross country you have seven people on the line to share the load and get energy from.”
Rosenkranz finished first overall in the girls meet Saturday, clocking a time of 20:14.6 at a 6.32 minutes-per -mile pace. Manhattan had three girls finish in the top five, with freshman Amelia Knopp taking third and sophomore Jenna Keeley placing fifth.
The boys team has some strong returners in junior Daniel Harkin and senior Matthew Pickering, both of which Melgares expects to have strong seasons. The boys finished seventh in the state last season, which is a little lower than where they had been at in years past.
The boys made their statement Saturday, with four runners placing in the top eight.
Pickering, junior Sean Anderson and sophomore Ben Mosier made that group, and Harkin finished first overall.
There is a lot on the line for everyone involved. But they are together.
“There are a lot of things that are worse than being injured, so I don’t want to get stuck feeling sorry for myself,” Melgares said. “But when I start feeling bad around the kids, they notice and lift me up and that goes full circle, because I get so excited for their achievements and for them to have goals and see them pay off.”