Home, sweet home.
If there's ever a place the Free State High and Lawrence High cross country teams want to run the biggest race of the season, Rim Rock Farm would be it.
Both schools train regularly at Rim Rock. Both schools already have run two races there this season. The third will be today, when the Class 6A and 5A state meets will take place there.
The Class 6A girls, which include Free State's Alysha Valencia as well as Lawrence High's top 10 runners, will run at 10 a.m.
The Class 6A boys, including Lawrence High's Harry Swartz and the Free State team, race at 11 a.m.
The 5A boys race will be sandwiched between the two 6A races. The 5A girls will run after the 6A boys.
For the city squads, Rim Rock is home. And most of the runners head into today's race feeling the familiarity will be an advantage.
"I'm really excited about state," said Valencia, who took second at regionals Saturday in Emporia. "We've gone out there so many times, I know how to do it, how to push the hills and everything."
Added LHS sophomore Megan Johnson, who finished fourth at regionals: "I think it will help us a lot over some teams that might not have been there before."
Johnson and Valencia should lead the city girls. As a freshman, Valencia finished fifth in last year's state meet, and since has earned praises from FSHS coach Steve Heffernan for developing the mental approach of a cross country race.
For the boys, Free State junior Danny Schneider quickly has emerged as one of the state's best. He finished fifth at the Sunflower League meet Oct. 18, then had an impressive second-place finish at regionals. This is Schneider's first year running cross country, and Heffernan said his ignorance of the sport might be a big advantage.
"He never gets shaken up in a race," Heffernan said. "He keeps running his race and makes up the ground he needs to."
While Schneider, Valencia and Johnson have plenty of high school races left, many runners don't. Lawrence High senior Meg Gentry will finish her high school career today, as will Free State senior Nick Squier and several others.
"This will be my last one," Squier said. "I have to make sure I run a satisfying race."