Cross country teams meet, exceed early expectations in advance of state meet

BUFFS ROUNDUP: Tuesday,  Oct. 29, 2019

CROSS COUNTRY

When the Garden City High School cross country teams gathered in mid-August to begin their preseason workouts, veteran head coach Krista Linenberger was assured of two things.

First, she knew she had some experienced runners on the boys side in seniors Ethan Fisher, Santiago Nunez-Gonzalez and Austin Hess. She also realized early on that there were several youngsters who showed promise from the summer off-season runs.

It was much the same on the girls side for the Lady Buffs with seniors Kaetlin Kohlhorst, Destiny Avila and Ana Casados returning from the 2018 squad.

Two months later and with the regular season completed two weeks ago, and then running in the Class 6A regional meet on Saturday, Oct. 26 in Wichita, Linenberger found the answers to those questions about her youthful prospects.

Freshman Jocelyn Sosa, who has been the mainstay and top performer all fall for the Lady Buffs, blitzed the field at Cessna Activity Center to claim the individual gold medal with a time of 19:31.95, nearly 17 seconds ahead of the Wichita East runner-up, Eva McKinzie.

Sosa’s strong effort, though, was not enough to advance the Lady Buffs team to the state meet on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, but her regional title was the first such accomplishment since Katy Doll did it in 2014.

Meanwhile, Fisher continued his strong senior campaign at the regionals, placing third overall, while Nunez-Gonzalez took eighth and Hess 24th. But junior Brody Hoff placed 13th, freshman Devin Chappel was 20th and another freshman, Evan Gurrola, took 25th to help the Buffs qualify as a team in the runner-up position to Wichita East.

“The young runners just have run really well for us this year,” Linenberger said early this week in preparation for the state meet. “They just seem to have that competitiveness that you need to run cross country.”

Linenberger said the younger runners have bonded well with their upperclass teammates.

“I think the seniors made them not feel like freshmen,” Linenberger said of her senior leaders. “They’ve proved themselves and filled the holes we lost from last year’s team.”

Linenberger said she knew that Chappel and Gurrola had some ability, but always is a bit skeptical about how well freshmen will do at the varsity level.

“I think the fact they’ve run as well as they have is attributable to their summer conditioning,” Linenberger said.

Junior Hoff and sophomore Kenji Craig round out the team’s seven-runner roster, and Linenberger said the depth has been one reason for the success this fall, citing how well the boys ran at both the Western Athletic Conference championship where they captured the league title and then followed it up at regionals.

“Kenji Craig has come a long way, especially since the halfway point of the season,” Linenberger said. “They’ve all worked hard, and this is the way it pays off.”

While cross country seems like an individual sport in many ways, Linenberger said the team aspect has been the strength of this year’s Buffs squad.

“This group loves to run so much more than just running for a time,” she said. “They love the atmosphere of cross country and the difficulty in getting through the daily workouts.”

Linenberger saved special praise for her rookie runner in Sosa, who was runner-up in the WAC and then captured the regional title to punch her individual ticket to the state meet in Lawrence.

“She’s handled things so well because it’s not just about her running,” Linenberger said of Sosa. “She loves doing it, and there’s just something in her that is not forced about the sport. She’s posting great times, but it’s more than that. She embraces the process of the sport, and that’s not easy to do.”

Linenberger said Sosa reminds of her another former Lady Buffs runner, Chelsea Jackson, who ran in the early 2010s with Alex Miller, Kayla Doll, Katy Doll and Aileen Gurrola.

Jackson, who like Sosa is petite in height, qualified as an individual her freshman year and was the lone GCHS representative that year at state.

“Jocelyn has the same kind of mindset that Chelsea had,” Linenberger said in comparing the two (Jackson eventually ran at Fort Hays State University). “Jocelyn, like Chelsea, just won’t settle for anything less than her best.”

Despite her relative inexperience for the varsity level, Linenberger has no qualms in expressing the confidence she has in Sosa heading to the state meet.

“It’s been awhile since I felt we had somebody who could run near the top,” Linenberger said. “She knows, and I know, that she can hang with just about anybody. She’s trained for this and she has the ability to be one of the best we’ve had.”

Sosa will run her solo race on Saturday over the difficult Rim Rock Farm layout at 10:35 a.m. while the Buffs’ boys team will take off on their 5-kilometer race at about 12:20 p.m.

When the teams ran at the Rim Rock Invitational in late September, Sosa finished 12th out of 278 runners with a time of 20:13.0. Fisher was the top finisher for the boys in that race, placing 22nd out of 315 competitors in 16:55.2.

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