Lawrence High's boys cross country team has had a year to reflect on or forget last year's state performance.
The Lions entered the Class 6A state meet at Rim Rock Farm as a state contender, but LHS placed ninth.
"I'm not sure if there is such a thing as redemption in sports because every team is different," LHS coach Dick Reamon said. "We know we're a whole lot better than what we did last year and I hope we're good enough to win it this year. I would hope we would learn from our mistakes. You just never know in athletics. Any thing can happen."
The Lions enter today's state meet ranked No. 1. Shawnee Mission Northwest, which has won seven consecutive state titles, is No. 2, followed by No. 3 Free State. The Class 6A boys 5-kilometer race begins at 10 a.m and the 6A girls 2-mile race is scheduled for 11 a.m. The 5A boys race is at 10:30 a.m. and the 5A girls race is at 11:30 a.m.
"Three teams in the state have distanced themselves from other teams and that's Lawrence High, Northwest and Free State," FSHS coach Steve Heffernan said.
In eight meets during the regular season, LHS never finished behind a Kansas school. Reamon believes his runners are more relaxed than a year ago.
"We've changed a lot this season," Reamon said. "We've been trying to make every meet fun, try to analyze each meet, see what we did right and see what we need to improve on."
Junior Dylan McClain and senior Justin Riley have provided Lawrence with low placings all season. McClain and Riley placed 1-2 at Sunflower League two weeks ago and 1-3 at regional last week.
"We had outstanding leadership this year," Reamon said. "Those were guys we could count on."
McClain and Riley, Lawrence's top two runners last year, would like to forget the 2000 state meet. The two didn't even figure in the Lions' team total with McClain placing 85th and Riley 98th.
"Last year we put too much pressure on ourselves," Riley said. "This year the pressure is kind of off. The difference between this year and last year is we're trying to savor the moment and enjoy ourselves."
Riley was part of Lawrence's state runner-up squads in 1998 and 1999. In the school's illustrious athletics history, the Lions have never won a state title in boys cross country.
"A state championship is definitely our goal," Riley said. "If there ever was a year to win it, I think this would be the year."
McClain, plagued by a foot injury at the start of the season, is peaking at the right time, winning league and regional the past two weeks for his first individual victories of the fall.
"It really hindered my training," McClain said of the injury. "At the beginning of the season I wasn't happy with the way I was racing. It's coming together better for me. Hopefully, I can do well this weekend."
Like Riley, McClain is more at ease this year before state.
"We're a lot more relaxed and a more experienced team," he said. "That takes a lot of pressure off. I think both of us are concerned more about winning as a team than to win individually."
Free State, which placed eighth at state last year, was led by Justin White and Jason Jenny at league and regional.
"As long as we put out our best effort at state, the guys have a reasonable shot to win a trophy," Heffernan said.
Richardson paces city girls
FSHS junior Mallory Richardson is the city's top girls runner heading to state.
Richardson, 13th at state as a sophomore, placed fourth at league and second at regional the past two weeks.
"Mallory should be one of the top five or six individuals," Heffernan said. "If she runs real well, maybe higher than that."
Leavenworth senior Amy Hastings and Olathe South sophomore Alysha Galbraith, the defending state champion, are favored at state.
"Hastings is the favorite by 40 seconds," Heffernan said. "No one is going to come close to her."
The Firebird girls are making their fifth straight state appearance as a team. Free State has placed fourth at state three times.
Lawrence High's girls also qualified. LHS senior Sarah Butler is running No. 1 for the Lions. She placed fourth at regional and sixth at league.
"I kind of came in with no expectations and I've surprised myself," said Butler, making her first state appearance since her freshman year.
LHS placed second at regional last week, four points ahead of Free State.
"We've come a long, long way on our girls side," Reamon said. "The improvement, more than anything, has to do with confidence."