With a loaded Centennial League boys field that conceivably could produce state champions in three different classifications, Manhattan’s Daniel Harkin knew he had to get out quickly in Saturday’s race at the Kanza Park course.
But the pace the Indian senior set in the first mile?
"It was suicidal," Harkin said of a blistering pace of 4 minutes, 30 seconds, over that first mile.
The pace might have been faster than anticipated, but it wasn’t a killer for Harkin’s chances to defend his league crown against two runners — Hayden’s Tanner Newkirk and Emporia’s Treyson True — who had already beaten him this season. Harkin got the early lead he desired and maintained it for the duration of the race, topping Newkirk by six seconds and True by 23 seconds with his win in 15 minutes, 35.8 seconds.
"I was just trying to get a lead in that first mile and I think maybe it hurt me a little bit," Harkin said. "But I held on long enough. I knew (Newkirk) had a great sprint, so I was just trying to stay away from him at the beginning.
"It’s really fun to race good competition. I think I could have gone faster, but you have to have strategy out there as good as those guys are."
Manhattan made it a clean sweep of the league titles as Harkin paced the Indian boys to the team crown. The Indians placed six in the top 12, with Max Bowyer adding a fifth, and topped Hayden by a whopping 47 points (36-83).
Things were much tighter in the girls race. Manhattan’s Jenna Keeley continued her undefeated season, holding off Washburn Rural’s Madeline Carter by nine seconds for the individual title, and the Indians did just enough to counter four Junior Blues in the top seven to edge them by four points (33-37) for the title.
"My strategy was to get out fast from the pack in the first mile or so," Keeley said. "And then around the two mile, pick up the pace a bit and hold on."
A strong wind was prevalent throughout both races, but it hardly seemed to hamper the leaders. In fact, both Keeley and Carter set personal-best times. Keeley topped her previous best by six seconds with her winning time of 18 minutes, 45.7 seconds, while Carter knocked four seconds off her previous best with her runner-up time of 18:54.1.
"Wind isn’t ideal, but you can use it to your advantage," Keeley said. "Coming into the finish, that tailwind really helped."
After breaking the 19-minute barrier in winning last week’s city meet, Carter was hoping to upset Keeley on Saturday.
"I knew she’s a really good runner and I just needed to push myself to stay up with her," Carter said. "I give huge props to her. When we had our meet at the T-Town (Washburn Rural’s home Sunflower Showdown), she was definitely well ahead of me. When I ran sub-19 last week, I knew I could compete well with her and that’s what I did."
At that same Sunflower Showdown, Newkirk got his win over Harkin, out-kicking him down the homestretch for a one-second win. Newkirk knew Harkin would come back strong in Saturday’s race and hoped he could answer the challenge.
But he admitted the blistering early pace took its toll.
"I was going to try to go out with whoever went out and first and maybe that wasn’t a good idea," Newkirk said. "He really pushed me with that early pace. I was more tired than I’ve ever been after one mile and that got me a little frightened. I closed a bit late, but it wasn’t enough."
Newkirk still had enough to easily hang on for second place in 15:41.0. True, last year’s 5A state runner-up, was third in 15:58.1, while Topeka West’s Lenny Njoroge was fourth in 16:10.9. Washburn Rural’s Arrik White was the only other city finisher in the top 10, taking eighth (16:42.8).
Rural’s girls, however, dominated the top 10. Khloi Bird backed Carter’s runner-up finish with a third-place showing in 19:48.1, while Keely Wagner added a fifth (20:10.0) and Sydney Laster was seventh (20:11.6).
But Manhattan also put four in the top 10 and got a 12th from its fifth runner, while Rural’s fifth finisher, Meagn Christensen, was 21st as the Junior Blues fell just short of adding a league title to its city crown.
"I’m really proud of our team," Carter said. "We’ve worked really hard and competed well. It’s OK we didn’t get first and we can learn from this and it can go either way. You never know what the next meet will hold."
Seaman placed two in the top 10 with Bethany Druse eighth (20:26.3) and Emma Schultz ninth (20:29.2).
CENTENNIAL LEAGUE MEET
At Kanza Park
Manhattan 36, Hayden 83, Emporia 91, Washburn Rural 98, Seaman 108, Topeka West 149, Junction City 160, Topeka High 203.
1. Harkin, Manhattan, 15:35.8; 2. Newkirk, Hayden, 15:41.0; 3. True, Emporia, 15:58.1; 4. Njoroge, Topeka West, 16:10.9; 5. Bowyer, Manhattan, 16:36.3; 6. Laudie, Emporia, 16:38.7; 7. Atkins, Junction City, 16:40.1; 8. White, Washburn Rural, 16:42.8; 9. Mosier, Manhattan, 16:46.0; 10. Anderson, Manhattan, 16:49.7.
Manhattan 33, Washburn Rural 37, Seaman 62, Emporia 88, Topeka High 161, Hayden 162.
1. Keeley, Manhattan, 18:45.7; 2. Carter, Washburn Rural, 18:54.1; 3. Bird, Washburn Rural, 19:48.1; 4. Knopp, Mahattan, 19:56.9; 5. Wagner, Washburn Rural, 20:10.0; 6. Henningson, Manhattan, 20:11.5; 7. Laster, Washburn Rural, 20:11.6; 8. Druse, Seaman, 20:26.3; 9. Schultz, Seaman, 20:29.2; 10. Gaul, Manhattan, 20:36.3.