WICHITA, Kan.—Kapaun took home matching fourth place trophies from state last year. Both teams lost key parts, but should be in the mix once again this year.
Mackenzie Maki and the luxury of her low numbers are gone off to Arizona State, so Kapaun is going to have to adopt a pack mentality for this season.
“It is going to be a different team, but certainly it is going to be more a team effort,” Kapaun head coach John Kornelsen said. “I think we have a better group of girls. Their ability to run together is going to be a strength for them. We were really spread out last year from top to bottom. Those kids have kind of grouped up this year.”
Kapaun does return Nos. 2, 3 and 4 from its team at state last year. Saige Muir had a solid freshman season and will be one of the top runners for Kapaun. Bridgette Valliere will be a junior leader this year. Crista Skinner was the No. 4 runner at state and Kornelsen likes the work she has put in over the summer.
“I think that she is going to surprise a lot of people,” Kornelsen said. “I hope including me.”
Emily Stricker is a senior to watch for the Crusaders as a summer of hard work has started to pay off.
“(She) put in a great summer,” Kornelsen said. “She has slipped up there simply because she has worked very hard.”
All those ladies will combine to give Kapaun the overriding theme of team this year.
“It is going to be a team similar to the guys’ team in a lot of respects,” Kornelsen said. “Maybe a good, solid team (and) maybe nobody outstanding.”
Kapaun’s boys will start where they left off last year, with an underclassmen as the No. 1 runner.
“On the guys side we have a sophomore I think is going to be unbelievable,” Kornelsen said.
That sophomore is Nolan Hesse. Hesse missed out on All-State as a freshman by just one spot with a 21st place finish. This is a disappointment he will look to remedy.
“He had a great summer and a great freshman cross country year. He has put in an incredible summer,” Hesse said. “He’s got the mileage to be where I think he want to be. He is running a lot of miles and they are quality miles. I’ve been trying to hold him back a bit, but everything we do he has been blazing through.”
Hesse should make big leaps in his second season as Kornelsen has to reign the sophomore in from time to time.
“It was an effort to hold him back last year. We probably could have done a lot of things with Nolan last year, but I want to bring him along the way I thought he should be brought along,” Kornelsen said.
Past Hesse, Kapaun returns its Nos. 3 through 6 runners.
Seniors Matt Ayres and Tony Baldessari are the two seniors this year who Kapaun needs to be solid contributors this year.
“If those guys can step up between now and City, regionals and state, (then) we’re going to have a pretty good team,” Kornelsen said.
Juniors John Dolechek and Lukas Maki are the other returning members from the state team last year. Another face to watch for is junior Henry Moore.
“I think he is going to work his way into our top five,” Kornelsen said.
Kapaun opens the season on Sept. 3 at Augusta in the JK Gold Classic.