Hillsboro boys run their way to state

The Hillsboro High School cross country team will make its first appearance at state in school history, thanks to a second-place finish at the regional meet hosted by Southeast of Saline Saturday.

Hillsboro finished only eight points off the championship, compiling a team score of 81 to Riley County’s 73.

“The kids ran super,” said coach Brian Kennell.

Trojan senior Garrett Call continued his return to early-season form, finishing eighth overall in a time of 17:38 to take home a top-10 medal.

“That was the goal from the beginning,” said Call, who qualified for state in this his first year of competition. “I wasn’t going to quit football if I didn’t think I could make it. I’m really excited to go.”

Call blamed his mid-season slump on burnout and poor form.

“The last two races we’ve been concentrating on form and holding it throughout the race,” he said.

Call’s performance was key, but perhaps the biggest shot in the arm the Trojans got was from junior Matt Unger, who ran an outstanding race to finish 11th, just out of medal contention, in a time of 17:50.

His time was his second-best of the season and knocked more than minutes off his previous two races.

“He really had a break-out race that really helped us a ton,” Kennell said.

“He had been running strong, but this was a definite improvement for him. It didn’t surprise me. I always thought that he was capable of running faster.”

Unger said: “I was feeling pretty confident in the morning. Usually I speed up at the end (of the race). This time I just tried to stay up with my team. I was used to speeding up at the end, so I did that again. I guess that did it for me.”

Rounding out the Trojan scoring were Aaron Yoder, who finished 15th in 18:01, Daniel Yoder, who finished 17th in 18:04, and Adam Jilka, who finished 30th in 18:42.

Jilka improved his time by more than 30 seconds from his previous race and about 45 seconds faster than the race before that.

Also competing for Hillsboro were Andy Unger, who finished 49th in 19:38, and Nick Unruh, who finished 65th in 20:19.

Heather Pankratz, the lone Trojan girl to run, finished 38th in a time of 15:15.

Fourteen teams entered the competition. After Riley County and Hillsboro came Belle Plaine 91, Belleville 103, Wichita Collegiate 125, Hesston 149, Bluestem 173, Halstead 209, Trinity Academy 228, Marion 235, Southeast of Saline 256, and Herington 350.

The turnaround in Hillsboro’s program this season has been dramatic due to an influx of talented runners.

Matt Unger was the only returning runner on this year’s squad. He said the success of the team has made this season special.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with this team this year,” he said. “It’s really exciting when the whole team gets (rewarded). It just makes it a lot more fun because it’s not just you who competed. You help the whole team.”

The state cross country meet will be held Saturday at the country club in Wamego. The boys’ race starts at 10 a.m.

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