VICTORIA — After finishing second among all runners at the Hays High/Victoria Invitational Invitational a year ago, there was only way for Norton’s Lexi Kats to top that performance this year.

And Kats found a way to do so, besting runners from all classes to take first place in the girls’ race on Thursday at Sand Plum Nature Trail.

Colby’s Lara Murdock was within striking distance of Kats before the junior pulled away down the stretch, finishing in 20:19.7, nearly 17 seconds ahead of Murdock.

“I just tried to listen to everybody around me and go to the finish,” Kats said.

Kats said the Sand Plum trail is one of the toughest courses of the season, next to Rim Rock in Lawrence, site of the Class 3A state meet.

“This course is challenging because of all the hills and it’s really hot usually,” Kats said.

Kats placed fourth in Class 3A a year ago, but she isn't looking too far ahead.

“I just run for my team,” Kats said. “I’m just hoping we can make it to state.

"Just one meet at a time.”

Kats’ win highlighted a big day for the Bluejays. In the boys' race, Norton junior Connor Hall placed third overall and first in the 4-1A division, helping the Bluejays win the team title. He finished in 17:29.9, which was 22.9 seconds behind winner Javier Marquez from Dodge City.

The Thomas More Prep-Marian girls finished first among the three teams competing in the 4-1A division. The Monarchs had five top-10 finishers in their division, led by a third-place finish from freshman Grace Pope in 22:14.1. Senior Julia Werth was fifth (22:49.1), sophomore Kyleigh Allen was eighth (23:21.4), senior Emily Schippers was ninth (23:31.3) and freshman Abby Rueschhoff was 10th (23:41.2) for the Monarchs.

Plainville’s Aubree Dewey was fourth in Class 4-1A with a 22:25.9.

For Hays High, Landri Dotts led the Indians on the girls' side with a fifth-place finish in 6-5A with a 22:12.3. Claire Shippy was 13th (23:08.9) and Yesenia Maldanado was 15th (23:10.2) for Hays High, which finished third as a team. Dodge City won the girls' 6-5A division.

“We are very proud of how our harriers competed today,” Hays High coach Jerold Harris said. “We beat some teams that could possibly be in our regional come October.”

On the boys' side in Class 4-1A, Sheldon Weber led TMP with a fourth-place finish in 18:39.6 while Jared Mayers placed eighth in 19:19.7. The Monarch boys finished fourth in their division as a team.

Ricky King finished second behind Norton teammate Hall in Class 4-1A with a 17:54.1. Ellis’ Samuel Pyle was third in 4-1A with an 18:14.

Dodge City’s boys also took the 6-5A team title.

Brayden Hines was the top placer for the Hays High boys, finishing 24th overall with an 18:59.4.