As cheers from rabid fans rose above the trees near the final hill at Rim Rock Farm on Saturday at the Sunflower League cross country meet, a single runner emerged in the distance.
Most spectators standing at the finish line were too far away to determine who cast the tall silhouette against the gray sky, but Lawrence High coach Brian Anderson knew immediately.
He recognized the stride, had a feel for the frame and knew that the leader was one of his.
“Yeah, Roy,” Anderson yelled at the top of his lungs with the hope that LHS senior Roy Wedge would hear him. He then turned to those around him and said, “That’s going to be a PR.”
He was right.
Taking a football-field-sized lead into the final few hundred yards of the race, Wedge shattered his previous best time of 15:47 and cruised to a Sunflower League championship in 15:41.12.
“I just wanted to go out and see if I could outlast everybody,” Wedge said. “This was my 11th time running here, so I’m pretty comfortable with how the course runs. But it’s still a race between people, not against the course.”
In all reality, this was never much of a race. Although Shawnee Mission South’s Andrew Stevens and Free State’s Logan Sloan did their best to stay with Wedge, the LHS senior pulled away with just under 1,000 yards left and roared to a 22-second victory.
“Roy’s just so determined,” said Sloan, who finished third in 16:06.55. “He ran a very smart race. He almost ran a perfect race. He’s amazing.”
It was that kind of day for the LHS boys, who won the Sunflower League team title by a 24-point margin over SM South and ended with a 40-point cushion between them and perennial power SM Northwest.
“Wow, just wow,” said LHS junior Joseph Springer III, who finished sixth in 16:28.55. “We’ve talked a lot about this race, and we’ve been waiting for it and working really hard. This is our meet. Shawnee Mission Northwest is really after us, but today this was our meet.”
Springer was one of five LHS runners to earn an individual medal Saturday. Joining him and Wedge in the top 20 were: senior Calvin Morgan (seventh, 16:30.53), junior Nicolas Shump (16th, 17:06.17) and sophomore Simon Fangman (20th, 17:12.96). Sophomore Zach Andregg just missed earning a medal by finishing 21st. Fellow sophomore Nathan Stringer finished 29th (17:31.12) to put all seven Lions in the top 30.
“Before the race, the only thing we talked about was that we wanted everyone to go out and try their best,” Wedge said. “I think we did a good job of that, by the looks of it.”
The Lawrence High girls also turned in a memorable day, finishing seventh in the team standings, paced by seniors Lucy Daldorph (19th, 16:44.31) and Shelby Clark (20th, 16:44.96).
The Free State High girls — who finished eighth in the team standings — also claimed a couple of individual medals. Junior Hayley Francis finished seventh overall in 16:14.80, and senior Morgan Flannigan was 17th in 16:43.25.
Francis, who has missed time because of injuries to both legs, went for broke and stayed with the leaders for the entire race.
“Going into this, I wasn’t thinking about medaling or placing in the top 10,” Francis said. “My goal today was to go out as hard as I could and have nothing left at the end. I think I did that, and it felt really good.”
For Flannigan, Saturday’s result was as much about the team taking a step forward as anything else.
“When we came here today, we were really psyched and ready to go,” Flannigan said. “We still have room for improvement, but this was a great warm-up for regionals and state.”
The Free State boys placed sixth overall. Sloan was joined on the medal stand by sophomore Kain Anderson (ninth, 16:50.71), while senior Chris O’Brien just missed a medal with his 24th-place finish in 17:21.40.
“Our team did really well today,” Sloan said. “I’m proud of all of us. I think we’ve got a really good shot at making state next week, and that’s something we haven’t done since I’ve been here.”
The Lions and Firebirds will compete for trips to state at the Class 6A regional meet Saturday at Haskell.