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Panther girls seek 5A regional cross country title
Kaiden Esfeld1
Great Bend Panther Kaiden Esfeld

Panthers girls continue historic season



The Great Bend girls cross country team has turned back the clock during a memorable 2021 season. The Panthers have won six of seven meets, highlighted by the school’s 16th girls Western Athletic Conference championship.

Now, the girls seek the school’s 11th regional cross country title on the girls side. You’d have to go back 20 years to 2001 when the Panther girls captured the 5A state cross country championship.

Only 6A state powerhouse Washburn Rural has beaten the Panther girls heading to Saturday’s 5A cross country regional at the Lake Barton cross country course. 

“It’s a big advantage running at Lake Barton,” said Great Bend coach Lyles Lashley. “Most of those schools have run there. But we train and run there every day, which is a definite advantage. The teams that see our course love it.”

When Great Bend’s girls captured their home title in September, the Panthers finished second (Emilia Diaz), third (Diane Alvarez), fourth (Eliana Beckham), fifth (Marissa Boone) and sixth (Addy Nicholson).   

When top runner Diaz was sidelined to rest a shaky ankle, the Panthers easily captured the WAC title at Dodge City. 

“We’ve shown we got quality depth,” Lashley said. “Our three freshmen Alvarez, Boone and Darcy Feist have stepped up. Having competition has definitely helped. We’ve had girls miss for different reasons, but other girls have stepped up and done a great job.”

Lashley said he’s excited to see how the girls perform.

“It’s been a great season so far, but our big goals are right in front of us,” he said. “We’re right on target where we want to be. When we beat Wichita Carroll, that was big. We’ve got three girls who ran really well on the state cross country course. We’re getting close.”

Diaz leads the top trio with Alvarez and Boone. At state last year, Diaz placed 15th, Loomis 39th, Nicholson 42nd and Beckham 54th. 

“Diane and Marissa run pretty consistent second and third behind Diaz,” Lashley said. “Behind that, Addy Nicholson and Eliana Beckham leads the next batch of girls. Our next four girls have interchanged during the season.”

Lashley said he’s confident his top three runners are good to go.

The key for a regional championship is how close the next pack of runners can hang with Addy Nicholson and Beckham.

“We run our pack of girls four through eight,” he said. “Our goal is always try and close in on the front pack. The great thing running together is those girls push each other and provide encouragement. The closer they get, the lower our point total will be. We talk about running together as a group all the time.”

Lashley said a group of runners who pass up a runner from another team is a huge boost.

“We always study the runners we need to be close to,” he said. “We study the other teams.” 

Great Bend’s WAC champion Kaiden Esfeld will lead the boys division. Esfeld placed 18th at 5A state last year.

“The key for Kaiden is he’s learned how to race. He’s developed his race strategy and he’s a savvy runner now,” Lashley said. “The only runners who’ve beetane Kaiden is a 4A state champion from Buhler and a 3A state champion from Southeast of Saline.”  


5A GREAT BEND (Lake Barton)—10 a.m.—Goddard, Great Bend, Hays, Maize, Maize South, Newton, Salina Central, Salina South, Valley Center 

3A LAKIN (Louck Park)—11 a.m.—Cimarron, Colby, Goodland, Hays-TMP, Hoisington, Holcomb, Hugoton, Kingman, SW Heights, Lakin, Larned, Norton, Phillipsburg, Russell, Scott City

2A GREAT BEND (Lake Barton)—11:20 a.m.—Elkhart, Ellinwood, Ellis, Hoxie, Hutchinson Trinity, Stanton County, Medicine Lodge, Oakley, Plainville, Skyline, Smith Center, Sterling, Sublette, Syracuse, WaKeeney Trego

1A NESS CITY—10 a.m.—Northern Valley, Cheylin, Brewster, Bucklin, South Central, Deerfield, Dighton, Fowler, Kiowa County, Ingalls, Hodgeman County, La Crosse, Wichita County, Logan, Meade, Minneola, South Gray, Ness City, Oberlin, Otis-Bison, Palco, Quinter, Golden Plains, Satanta, Wallace County, Spearville, St. Francis, Greeley County, Victoria 

1A WICHITA (Cessna Activities Center)—11:15 a.m.—Burden Central, Burrton, Caldwell, Canton-Galva, Central Plains, Crest, Cunningham, Dexter, Goessel, Hartford, Hutchinson Central Christian, South Barber, Fairfield, Little River, Centre, Macksville, Madison, McPherson Elyria, Marmaton Valley, Olpe, Oswego, Oxford, Pretty Prairie, South Haven, St. John, St. Paul, Udall, Wichita Christian, Wichita Classical