BHS sweeps state titles
For the third time in the last four years, the Baldwin High School cross country teams have swept the Class 4A State Championships Saturday at Wamego.
"It was really good," coach Mike Spielman said. "Last year we got second and it was a really good race for us, but we just felt that little bit of let down that we didn't win both. It was nice to have that feeling back again."
This year's performance ties BHS with Gypsum Southeast of Saline High School in fourth place for the number of years sweeping the state meet with three.
Shawnee Mission Northwest holds the title with nine. Shawnee Mission-Bishop Miege has five and Stanton County has swept its class four times.
Since 1978, when girls' cross country started, a sweep at the state cross country meet has happened 37 times.
This year marked the eighth straight state title for the boys' team. The Bulldogs scored 51 points, just 12 ahead of second-place Abilene, 63 points.
"We have had some close ones during the streak, but this has been the tightest finish in the last few years," Spielman said. "We knew we had to have just about everybody run a good race."
Junior Chris Elniff led the way with a third-place finish in a time of 16:38. Seniors Keith Cowart, fifth, Grant Catloth, 18th, and Spencer Wilson, 20th, rounded out the top 20 for Baldwin.
The other Bulldog runners were sophomore Aaron Karlin, 32nd, junior Caj Kueffer, 59th, and junior Nathan Dick, 60th.
"It felt good to know the streak didn't go down on our (seniors) last race," Cowart said.
The girls' team bounced back after a second-place finish last season to win this year by 30 points. The Bulldogs scored 70, while Wamego totaled 100. They also won state in 2002 and 2003.
"If we would have taken Heather (Garcia) out, we still would have won by three points," Spielman said. "That says something about the other kids on the team. It also takes some pressure off Heather."
Junior Kelsey Verhaeghe crossed the finish line first for Baldwin in fifth with a time of 12:21.20. Sophomore Madison Shoemaker was close behind in sixth, 12:21.62.
Freshman Corinna Papps, 13th, and sophomore Heather Garcia, 19th, were the other Bulldogs top 20 finishers.
Rounding out the team were freshman Calleigh Durr, 53rd, junior Amanda Vander Tuig, 57th, and senior Amy Craig, 63rd.
"It felt good to win," Vander Tuig said. "We got second last year and we were disappointed. We are glad to be back on top."
After the races finished, Spielman predicted the team scores would be opposite.
"The meet was totally backwards for me," Spielman said. "I thought the girls' race was super close when it got done. I thought the boys' race was a pretty big victory and it just turned out the opposite that the girls won by 30 and the boys won by 12. It was really weird that the feel of race doesn't mean much."
The turnout from Baldwin people impressed Spielman at the meet.
"We had a great spectator crowd for us," Spielman said. "It's really neat when they announce our kids at least one-fourth of the people at the awards stand cheering are Baldwin people. It's a nice loud cheer for our kids. That's impressive and also sets a tone for other schools."
Spielman was also proud of how the runners performed, despite dealing with high expectations all season.
"It just says a bunch about the kids to be able to handle all of that pressure. They have been running with the bull's-eye on their back all year and they knew that going into state. They were nervous about it because they had high expectations."
One reason for the success might be tradition of the program.
"It's what's driving everything right now," Spielman said. "Everybody just buys into it. I think the freshmen don't quite understand it and then they start to figure it out. When it's all over, they take pride in trying to keep it going. It does a lot of the driving."
Elniff said the tradition helps keep the streak of state titles going on the boys' side.
"Tradition is one of the biggest things we've got going for us," Elniff said. "Nobody wants to be part of the team that breaks our little streak. Everybody just pushes themselves."
The Bulldogs have many traditions that range from annual shirts to eating at the Kreem Kup in Wamego.
"That is all the seniors start talking about is what the shirt is going to be and being able to hang it on the wall in my room," Spielman said.
The Kreem Kup started early in Spielman's coaching career.
"It was the very first year we went to state in 1992 and there was a McDonald's there," Spielman said. "We need to eat something other than McDonald's all the time. We saw this little mom and pop restaurant and it started. It has great food and it's fairly cheap. Once it started, it kind of snowballed."
Other traditions include making shirts or other clothing items for regionals and state, eating at Spielman's childhood farm after the Sabetha meet and eating at Spielman's house before the first meet and the state meet.
"Every year the seniors always make shirts for regionals and state," Elniff said. "The quotes and the colors for the shirt are chosen by the seniors. We go to the Kreem Kup every time we go to Wamego. Our whole program is just full of tradition."
The most enjoyable tradition might be the party after the state meet. The Bulldogs gather at someone's house and enjoy carbonated beverages.
"We just overload on pop and stay up all night," Elniff said.
Sometime during the night, the Bulldogs also find time to toilet-paper Spielman's house.
The Friday night before state, the Bulldogs leave Baldwin for Manhattan. But the team is required to dress nicely on the trip, making it stand out from other high school teams.
"It makes them feel kind of special when they are traveling." Spielman said. "It gets them noticed and it helps them keep focused on what we are there to do."
Elniff believes the traditions and family atmosphere of the team make it so successful.
"I think the fact that we are such a family and get along together is one of the big reasons we have so much success," Elniff said. "A lot of people wouldn't go out for the sport if it wasn't for the team."