Ben Wilson dreamed of this moment for years.
He knew the history as a child - that Lawrence High had not won a boys cross country state team title. Ever. He'd been on the Lions' team as a sophomore when LHS finished third at the state meet. He was there as a junior when Lawrence was sixth.
This time, it meant something more. The senior co-captain even gave up football in the fall to focus strictly on running - on finally snaring that elusive championship.
Saturday morning at Rim Rock Farm, with his last varsity race completed, Wilson paced around, waiting to see if this was the year, hoping someone would announce the final results. A roar went up in the distance. It seemed to originate from the Lions' tent.
Wilson made a beeline for his teammates.
"I just started sprinting to our tent," Wilson said. "I see someone holding No. 1 in the air. I just went crazy. I lost it. No man should ever cry as much, but I'm pretty happy right now."
For the first time in school history, the Lions captured the Class 6A boys cross country state title. Wilson, the only LHS senior to run Saturday at Rim Rock Farm, finally saw his dream come to fruition.
"This is the best group of guys I've ever run with," Wilson said, letting his tears flow freely. "It's just something special that you don't get to do every year."
Lawrence runners certainly knew they had a good shot at winning this time. The Lions came into the meet ranked No. 2 in the state, behind only defending state champion Shawnee Mission Northwest. Paced by Wilson and junior Roy Wedge, the Lions certainly didn't disappoint. Wilson led the race for the first mile-and-a-half and finished 10th overall, while Wedge nearly won the race outright, but finished second.
Lawrence's top five runners - Wedge, Wilson, Joseph Springer, Calvin Morgan and Simon Fangman - all finished in the top 23 among the 103 runners. Their inspried running helped the Lions ease by SM Northwest by nine points.
LHS freshman Zach Andregg and junior Jonathan Gabler also competed, placing 48th and 51st, respectively.
Wedge nearly pulled off an improbable comeback down the stretch of the boys race. Trailing race leader Brayden Barrientez of Wichita Haysville-Campus High by a good three seconds, Wedge ran full-bore as he neared the final downhill turn, briefly catching up with Barrientez, only to finish less than one second behind in 16:08.46.
"I got pretty close," Wedge said, vowing to make a run at the individual title next year. "I felt good about it."
Wilson used Friday's final LHS practice session to instill one last bit of motivation in his teammates. He led them inside the school to the Lions' cross country trophy wing. There were several trophies from years gone by. All second-place hardware.
"In the trophies, those guys looked really mad," Wilson said. "I said, 'We don't want to look like those guys tomorrow.' We didn't want to be runner-up anymore. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Today, we were the brides."
Free State High's boys did not qualify as a team, but did enter two runners as individuals: sophomore Logan Sloan and freshman Kain Anderson. Sloan finished in 15th in 16:36.44. Anderson ended his day in 30th, but he tallied the third-best finish for a freshman at the race.
"State kind of messes with people's minds," Sloan said. "It's big, and there are all these people here. But you have to stay focused, keep it simple and just have fun, really."
Perhaps lost in the euphoria of Lawrence's boys team title was the performance of Free State's girls team, which pulled off a bit of history as well.
The Firebirds finished third as a team, marking the first time they had placed at the state meet in school history.
Free State senior Kyra Kilwein, running her final race at Rim Rock, placed fifth. Kilwein found herself locked in a three-way tie for second place after the first mile marker. She held strong onto third at the halfway point before slowing just a bit and finishing in 15:38.24.
FSHS coach Steve Heffernan said Kilwein could have tried to place higher individually but decided contributing to the team score was more important.
Kilwein said she left the course with no regrets.
"Down the back straight, I was telling myself to keep going because I needed to lead my team so we could place at state," Kilwein said. "I'm glad that we did."
Firebirds junior Morgan Flannigan joined Kilwein on the all-state team with a 16th-place finish.
For Lawrence, senior Stefanie Stuever was the lone Lions representative at state. She finished her career with a time of 16:05.12 and an 18th-place showing - good enough for all-state honors. Only the top 20 runners receive all-state recognition.
Earlier this season at the Jayhawk Invitational, Stuever reached the top of the skyline portion of the course and could not finish the race.
"Beat Rim Rock was my first goal," Stuever said. "Of course, it's always exciting to finish top 20, so I'll have a medal to remember this by."
In the end, the day belonged to the Lawrence boys, who finally can add a championship smile in the Lions' cross country trophy wing.
"It's really exciting," LHS coach Brian Anderson said. "The leadership from Ben and Roy has just been outstanding. The other guys bought into what they were saying, and it paid off. They worked really hard all summer. They worked hard all fall, and now they get to reap the rewards."