The Thomas More Prep-Marian cross country teams opened the season with a pair of victories at the Monarchs’ home meet Saturday morning.

The Monarch girls, running a 5K race for the first time, edged out Lakin for first place by a single point thanks to a strong showing by their upperclassmen.

“Going into the junior/senior race, I didn’t think we could catch Lakin,” TMP coach Matt Dumler said.”I thought they were too far ahead of us.”

TMP didn’t run a time trial before its first meet because Dumler thought his team was practicing too well and a simulated race might throw his team off.

Rachel Hamel was the first Monarch runner to complete the new racing distance, finishing third in the junior/senior race with a time of 21 minutes, 52 seconds. She said she had to remind herself not to take the turn for the 4K route on her home course.

“I would’ve been good for a 4K, but the 5K about killed me,” Hamel said. “I wasn’t ready for it.”

Shelby Stouffer placed two spots back of Hamel, finishing in 23:06.

“My top two seniors, Shelby and Rachel, I thought they ran tremendous races,” Dumler said. “Shelby has been practicing really well, and she has a determination this year that I haven’t seen in a while from her.”

Julia Werth’s time of 24:16 in the freshman/sophomore race occupied the third spot on the Monarchs’ team score, while Jordyn Manhart occupied the final spot with her time of 24:51. The meet only required four times to enter a team score, which allowed more schools to compete for a team title.

Hutchinson Trinity’s Celia Biel won the individual championship, running away from the field and finishing the race in 19:59.

“I thought they did well,” Dumler said of his girls. “They were very, very nervous before the course, and I think they still are. They found out it hurts a little bit more than a 4K. The mental battle is going to be what we’re going to have to fight from here on out.”

TMP also was victorious on the boys’ side thanks to four finishers in the top 10. The Monarchs again beat Lakin for the team title, finishing with 12 points to the Broncs’ 18.

Andrew Hess took second with his time of 18:00. Like Hamel, Hess felt like he could’ve been better prepared for the first race of the fall.

“I ran alright,” Hess said. “(I) could’ve been in a little better shape though.”

Hess led the pack after the first mile, but Ness City’s Lucas Roths strategically paced himself and eased into the race before passing Hess and running away from the group. Roths’ conditioning surprised Hess who said he beat the Ness City runner during track season in the spring.

“He probably ran all summer, but I didn’t,” Hess said. “He got me.”

Hess spent his summer punching the time clock instead of pounding the pavement, he said.

Dumler didn’t believe there was much Hess could have done about the end result.

“That was just one of those situations where we ran into a better runner, so we just have to maintain our race and do what we can do” Dumler said.

Ricky Hockett finished a little more than a minute behind Hess and took fourth, a showing that impressed his coach.

“Ricky Hockett came out and ran a tremendous race,” Dumler said.

Mark Loftus and Trevor Pfeifer rounded out the Monarchs’ top four, finishing in 19:36 and 19:52, respectively.

After a year in Class 4A, the Monarchs are expecting to compete as a 3A team this year. The classifications will be announced later this fall. Both the boys and girls have their sights set on qualifying for state as a team, a goal there coach thinks is an appropriate one as long as the team can remain healthy.

“I definitely think qualifying for state is realistic goal,” Dumler said. “It’s not something that we’re just imagining.”