Streak snapped at eight straight
WAMEGO -- As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. That's exactly what happened here Saturday.
After eight consecutive state championships, the Baldwin High School boys' cross country team was unable to win its ninth straight title, as it placed second to El Dorado.
"It had to end sometime and that's part of the deal," coach Mike Spielman said of the streak of titles. "All of those years that we were running well, there were some years where we probably ended up running really well and beating teams that had good races those days. It ended up happening to us this year. It helps to appreciate how hard it is to do that and getting second is no slouch."
BHS senior Chris Elniff said the shock of ending the streak had worn off and he realized that second place was no disappointment.
"It didn't really bother me that much," Elniff said of taking second as a team. "It's sad to be the team that broke the streak, but second at state is nothing to turn your nose down at. It's still a great accomplishment."
The streak began in 1998, but the Bulldogs also placed second in 1997. That gives BHS a top-two finish every year for the past 10 years.
"We've been really fortunate, because we had the streak of eight and then the year before we were second," Spielman said. "So that's 10 years of being either first or second. That's a pretty good thing for the kids."
Baldwin scored 70 points, which was seven short of El Dorado's 63. Spielman said the boys' team ran well, but their competitors ran better on that day.
"The boys' race was really close and we had our chances," Spielman said. "We were right in it. El Dorado happened to have a good day and we couldn't get over that."
Elniff agreed with his coach.
"We actually ran really well, but El Dorado just had a really good day," Elniff said. "They just went out there and ran their butts off. We ran our butts off, too, and everybody ran well. We were just outmatched."
The one team Baldwin was weary of was De Soto, which ended up placing third with 94 points. Once the race finished, Elniff thought the Bulldogs won, but was unaware of El Dorado until a bit later.
"It was weird, because I knew we beat De Soto," Elniff said. "So, at first I was really excited. The De Soto coach came up and told me number nine must feel great, so I was excited.
"Then I go back to the tent and everybody is crying and I was wondering what was going on," Elniff said. "Mr. (Tom) Noonan came up and said 'you fought hard and did good, but they got you by seven.'"
Spielman knew that El Dorado would be one of the teams that would compete for the title. He also thought its line up was similar to Baldwin's.
"They matched up with us better than the other teams did," Spielman said. "They had three really good front runners and their fourth and fifth runners were back a little bit. The front three guys ran unbelievable and were in the top 10. It's hard to beat a team when three-fifths of their scoring is that low."
The top three El Dorado runners placed first, eighth and ninth.
Elniff led Baldwin with a second-place finish, which is one higher than last year. He ran 17:07, just five seconds behind the winner.
"I would have liked to run a little better," Elniff said. "I took out a little fast, but luckily I was able to catch my second wind before the race was over and pass some people back."
The other two Bulldog medalists were senior Caj Kueffer (14th) and junior Aaron Karlin (18). Senior Nathan Dick became the fourth runner for BHS during the meet, as he placed 40th. Sophomore Brad Canterbury was the fifth Bulldog to finish as he came across in 42nd place.
"Nathan Dick just had a huge race," Spielman said. "It was a great race for his senior year. That was really good for him to finish the year on a high note like that. He really gave us a chance to win."
Sophomores Connor Wright (61st) and Blake Randels (71st) were the other two Bulldogs to run Saturday.
The annual tradition of toilet-papering Spielman's house was called off this year because the Bulldogs didn't win, but that didn't stop the team from enjoying other festivities.
"The tradition of state is one of the best things about running cross country," Elniff said. "Even after we didn't win, we went to the Kreme Kup for some food. Then we went to Nathan's for our annual party. We didn't get to TP (toilet-paper), because we didn't win."
The weather was favorable for fast times, but changes to the boys' course prevented those from happening.
Meet directors changed the course after there was a problem at the Wamego Invitational in September. The problem resulted from a portion of the course looping itself, but that was removed and more hill routes were added to the course.
"I felt bad for the boys, because they changed the course," Spielman said. "They made it a really tough course. The boys didn't have a chance to get a really good time like the girls did, because the weather and the footing were really nice."
Since the first meet of the year, the Bulldogs have steadily improved at each meet, which made the second place easier to swallow for Elniff.
"If you look at where our team was at the beginning of the season, the fact that we were able to improve that much is just amazing," Elniff said. "It's just a testament to coach."
The Bulldogs will lose three seniors from this state team. Now the younger runners will have a chance to regain the championship next fall.
"I think it's kind of fired up the younger guys to start their own (streak)," Spielman said. "We graduate three of our top five, so the younger guys are going to have to, but now they have that experience to know what it's like. It will be a lot different not having that to worry about."
BHS boys' results
2. Chris Elniff, 17:07
14. Caj Kueffer, 17:45
18. Aaron Karlin, 17:55
40. Nathan Dick, 18:25
42. Brad Canterbury, 18:30
61. Connor Wright, 19:07
71. Blake Randels, 19:21