It had been a long time coming, but Saturday morning the Free State High boys cross country team finally upstaged the Free State girls.
In doing so, the Firebirds won the Haskell Invitational team title, narrowly defeating Olathe East, the same school that kept the Free State girls out of the top spot earlier in the day.
So did stepping into the spotlight for a change feel as good as they thought it might?
"Oh my gosh, yes," said sophomore Logan Sloan, who won the boys race in 16:35.34. "I guess you could say we've been a little jealous of the girls. But our girls team is amazing, and it's always fun to watch them. They're a tight gang, and they're really good."
On Saturday, so were the boys.
Led by Sloan, who started fast and finished steady, the Firebirds placed five runners in the top 20 to earn the victory.
Freshman Kain Anderson placed fourth, junior Harrison Scheib and senior J.D. Wiebe finished side by side in 11th and 12th, respectively, and senior Clay Weinaug crossed the line in 20th. Not far behind were seniors Nash Riggins (26th) and Sam Willger (28th), whose times did not factor into the final standings. But their effort certainly fit the theme of the day for the Free State boys.
"My goal wasn't necessarily to win," Sloan said. "Today was a day to be tough, to show that we were tougher than everyone else."
Fittingly, that's how Sloan won the race. After getting out faster than normal because of a quick start by the rest of the field, Sloan watched patiently as those in front of him faded. About 1.2 miles into the 3.1-mile race, Sloan took the lead and never looked back, finishing first by 17 seconds and more than 50 yards.
"Everyone went out fast and then slowed down dramatically," he said. "But I just kept my speed and kept my focus and passed them along the way."
On the girls side Saturday, Free State ran the kind of race that has become its trademark this season. Senior Kyra Kilwein broke out with the leaders and fought her way to a third-place finish. Behind her, the rest of the Free State girls stayed together, ran hard and ganged up on other teams along the way.
"It was the same as always," senior Haley Harrington said. "We just tried to stay in a pack and then push together at the end."
It seemed to work. Much like the boys, the FSHS girls landed five runners in the top 17 and finished second only to Olathe East, which put four runners in the top 10.
Freshman Lynn Robinson placed ninth, Harrington finished 11th, Morgan Flannigan took 15th, and Amy Meyers finished 17th. Hillary Yoder (23rd) and Hailey Donley (26th) rounded out the FSHS lineup.
Like Sloan, Kilwein also had a choice to make in the beginning - go out fast and try to keep up or hang back and wait to make a move. Before she could blink, the choice had been made for her. Instead of sprinting out with the leaders, Kilwein fell to the back of the pack, forcing her to push harder than ever to make up ground.
"I kind of had to to get back up to the front," Kilwein said. "This course is very thin, and I got stuck in the back at the start."
In a span of about 300 meters, Kilwein passed more than a dozen runners, which led to a third-place individual finish and a little extra exhaustion. After the race, Kilwein said her goal was to win, but added that she was not too disappointed with the way things played out.
"It was more about winning it mentally and for the team," she said.
With nearby Rim Rock serving as the team's unofficial home course, several Firebirds said running at Haskell on Saturday was a delightful change of pace.
"It's a lot more flat than Rim Rock," said Meyers with a huge grin. "It's a nice course. And it was perfect weather for running."