It's all in your head.
That's the key to the state high school cross country meet: It's all in your head.
When the class 6A and 5A state meets start at 10 a.m. today at Rim Rock Farm, each coach will be telling his or her runners to maintain a positive state of mind. With all the training completed, relaxing and running a smart race goes a long way.
The Lawrence High and Free State High teams won't be any different.
"Some kids get in there and they're just completely overwhelmed because they think it's something special and all of sudden everybody looks really good," FSHS Steve Heffernan said. Both Firebird squads are ranked No. 5 by Kansas cross country coaches.
No one will be emphasizing relaxing more than LHS coach Dick Reamon. With the No. 1-ranked boys team and the No. 6 girls team, the Lions will be poised to do well today, provided they simply relax.
"I think the mental (part) is probably more important (than the physical) at this stage of the game," Reamon said.
The 6A girls race starts at 10:30 a.m., while the boys race begins at 11:30. Fans are encouraged to arrive at Rim Rock early, and, if possible, to car pool. Parking will be problematic with anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 fans expected.
Those who do come can expect the Lions to make a run at their first-ever boys championship. Shawnee Mission Northwest has won the last eight title, but the Cougars lack a runner that can contend for an individual title and the Lions have two.
Seniors Dylan McClain, who was second last year, and Andy Struble, who won last Saturday's regional at Manhattan, should be in the mix, along with Blue Valley West's Paul Hefferon, Blue Valley North's Grady Sullivan and the defending champion, Wichita Height's Ryan Wilson.
"We're just trying to stay relaxed, stay focused," Reamon said. "We've got three seasoned seniors that we just have to count on coming through for us."
Senior John Zehr and junior Harry Swartz should also run well, but the Lions' fifth runner, sophomore Drew Vogel, has walking pneumonia. Reamon didn't know if he would be able to run.
"That's one of those things that happened," he said. "We've done our best to talk (Jacob) Rahmeier into picking it up, but we'll see."
Free State seniors Hiral Bhakta and Adrian Ludwig could also medal, though Ludwig has been hampered by a groin injury.
"We're adjusting our goals as we go along," Heffernan said. "We're just looking at it for our seniors to go out and have a solid race and have some positive memories."
The Firebirds could make some noise on the girls' side, though. With freshman Alysha Valencia, who won the Manhattan regional, and senior Mallory Richardson, who was third, FSHS is looking to surprise some teams.
"They're excited to go out there and get on the course," Heffernan said. "I think they're really ready to go out and see if they can sneak in there. We feel like we really have a shot at the top four. And maybe, depending on how things work out, anything could happen."
SM Northwest has won back-to-back girls title, but will be pushed by Blue Valley North for a third. Valencia, along with Shawnee Mission South's Connie Abbott, Maize's Liz Kramer and Blue Valley West's Ellie Pishny, are the girls to watch for the individual crown.
The Lions get a boost from freshman Megan Johnson, who will complement senior Lauren Davis, junior Meg Gentry and sophomore Jenni Beasley. All four could medal, but it's Johnson who could provide the push for the Lions to land in the top three.
"She's doing better all the time," Reamon said. "She may not be 100 percent, but she certainly gives us a push that we didn't have without her."