Wristen: Must-see events aplenty
If you're looking for drama this fall, turn off the television and go to a game.
High school sports kicked off fall practices on Aug. 18, and with that a new year full of mystery and suspense is under way.
Intriguing storylines abound this fall. You don't have to look far to find them. To start you on your way, though, here are a few to keep an eye on as we begin another school year.
The Shawnee Mission Northwest boys cross country team will try to win its 15th straight state championship. According to the National High School Sports Record Book, the Cougars' current streak of 14 is tied for the second longest of all-time nationally behind 18-time Arizona winner Kearns Canyon Hopi. Both schools' streaks are active. Four of the Cougars' top seven runners - all state medalists in 2007 - will be back and charged with keeping the tradition alive.
Uh-oh, St. James Academy has seniors this year. That might not strike fear into most people considering all high schools have seniors, but St. James is a different beast. This is the young school's first senior class and, in particular, it's the volleyball team's first senior class. Consider the Thunder went 45-1 last year and were the Class 4A state runners-up, and that's enough to make you shudder. Consider they're still livid about that one loss; this year they'll be downright scary.
Zach Zarda is gone. What now for Maranatha Academy's cross country team? Quite a bit, actually. Zarda deservedly was Maranatha's superstar last year when he won two track state titles and was the Class 2A cross country state runner-up, but the truth is the Eagles had quite a bit of depth on both the boys' and girls' squads. Remember, the girls placed second at the state cross country meet in Wamego and the boys were fourth. The boys will use a balanced attack to try to improve their state status in 2008, and the girls will be serious title contenders. Senior Allison Bailey was fourth as a junior, and senior Faith Manning was 17th. Junior Bethany Zarda also will be a medal contender.
Will the SMNW football team recreate the magic of 2007? Coach Aaron Barnett orchestrated a brilliant turnaround at Northwest in turning the Cougars from a struggling program into a championship contender during a 9-2 campaign. They lost some serious studs to graduation such as Alex Carder, Josh Douglas, Tyler McKee, Bryce Murray and Joey Zdeb, so there are some big cleats to fill. All-Staters Bryce Atagi (RB) and Darion Hillman (OL/DL) are back, though, as are a slew of experienced players that should make the Cougars contenders to repeat as Sunflower League champions.
Will Woods show Mill Valley the way? Nick Woods was one of the most feared running backs in the Kaw Valley League when he was healthy, but a nagging leg injury kept him off the football field for part of the 2007 season. His leg healed by spring, however, and his speed returned as he qualified for state in the 100-meter dash and the 400-meter relay. Now a senior, a healthy Woods could rekindle visions of his elusive older brothers - Justin, David and Max - and make the Jaguars one of the teams to beat in the Kaw Valley League.
Do you think I've missed some other major storylines for the fall? You're absolutely right. There are many more topics to address, whether it's figuring out who will replace Aaron Sawyer as a scoring threat at Shawnee Mission North, discussing the potential for the St. James boys soccer team to match the girls' state title feat last May or if Northwest's Lisa Imgrund can capture the state championship in cross country. Share your ideas with me at shawneedispatch.com. It's going to be an exciting fall.