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Regional champs: Esfeld, girls sweep titles
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The Great Bend High School cross country girls running in a tight group captured the Panthers’ 11th regional cross country title. - photo by Hugo Gonzalez
LAKE BARTON — The mark of a true athlete is making something difficult look easy.
The Great Bend Panther girls rode a perfect plan of running in a tight group from start-to-finish to Saturday’s 5A regional cross country championship. The Panthers (30) beat runner-up Maize South (69) by 39 points.
Fourth-place medalist Emilia Diaz (20:17.8) led the Panthers’ charge across the finish line on a perfect autumn morning with 55-degree weather and a 5 mph wind.
“We trusted in our training and had fun,” Diaz said. “It was really fun running together. We figured we could do that. We were practicing and getting ready for that. All of our runners really pushed it today. We did a really good job.”
Diaz was followed by fifth-place Addy Nicholson (20:18.11), sixth place Eliana Beckham (20:18.84), seventh-place Diane Alvarez (20:19.39), and eighth-place Marissa Boone (20:19.56). The Panthers runners all passed Salina South’s Olivia Mancino-Hinde in the homestretch.
 It marked the Panthers’ 11th regional cross country title heading to 5A state at Augusta next week. The Panthers captured the 5A state championship in 2001. Maize South’s Britton Kelly (19:16.05) won the regional championship.
Diaz improved her time from Great Bend’s home meet Sept. 2 by 19 seconds. The other runners’ improvement was simply remarkable. Alvarez improved by 47 seconds, Beckham 60 seconds, Boone 1:11, Loomis 1:14, and Nicholson 1:29.
Nicholson was the Panthers’ unsung heroine by finishing ahead of freshmen sensations Alvarez and Boone.
“It was my best time. I credit our great leaders Emilia Diaz and Emma Loomis. They got me going,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said the key was the girls played it low key and focused on enjoying their 5-kilometer run.
“It was great teamwork. We went out and had so much fun, like it was a practice,” she said. “We wanted to work together as a team and finish first.”
Great Bend coach Lyles Lashley said he borrowed the “pack idea,” from his high school cross country coach Dave Anderson from Monroe, La.
“The pack we ran today was a tribute to my high school coach (Dave Anderson, Monroe, La.) He’s like a father figure,” Lashley said. “When I was a senior we ran as a pack at our state meet. When you pass another girl with five runners, it disheartens the other team. They had a blast running today and worked together. They executed the race plan perfectly and attacked the course.”
Great Bend’s Kaiden Esfeld (16:29.13) cruised to 5A regional medalist honors ahead of Maize South runner-up William Schaeffer (16:50.39) with a solid evenly-paced effort. Esfeld stayed with the front group and saved enough for a strong finish in the final 1,000 meters. Esfeld placed 18th at 5A state last year.
“With 1,000 meters to go, I kicked it in, took off to get the lead and win,” Esfeld said. “I’ve come a long way since my freshman year. I’ve learned to pace my race. I’m hoping to go to state and accomplish something good there.”
Lashley said Esfeld ran a perfect race.
“Kaiden used a minimum of energy and ran exactly the same pace,” Lashley said. “We felt good about it all day.”

GIRLS TEAM SCORES (TOP 3 QUALIFY)—1—Great Bend 30; 2—Maize South 69; 3—Hays High 96; 4—Salina South 117; 5—Maize 125; 6—Valley Center 144; 7—Newton 178; 8—Salina Central 192
TOP 10 GIRLS MEDALISTS—1—Kelly, MS, 19:16.05; 2—Ecord, Maize, 19:44.79; 3—x-Grover, VC, 20:03.14; 4—Emilia Diaz, GB, 20:17.8; 5—Addy Nicholson, GB, 20:18.11; 6—Eliana Beckham, GB, 20:18.84; 7—Diane Alvarez, GB, 20:19.39; 8—Marissa Boone, GB, 20:19.56; 9—x-Mancino-Hinde, SS, 20:20.13; 10—Shields, MS, 20:46.24.
GREAT BEND—14—Reese King, 20:56.01; 15—Emma Loomis, 21:01.4.
INDIVIDUAL QUALIFIERS—11—x-Allen, SS, 20:46.24; 12—x-Maldonado, Hays, 20:52.81; 18—x-Devila, SC, 21:22.27.

BOYS TEAM SCORES (TOP 3 QUALIFY)—1—Maize 38; 2—Maize South 40; 3—Newton 88; 4—Valley Center 99; 5—Salina Central 126; 6—Hays High 144; 7—Salina South 171; 8—Goddard 211.
TOP 10 BOYS MEDALISTS—1—x-Kaiden Esfeld, GB, 16:29.13; 2—Schaeffer, MS, 16:50.39; 3—Decker, MS, 16:50.91; 4—x-Griffith, SC, 16:54.54; 5—x-Moses, VC, 16;55.17; 6—Werner, Maize, 16:56.54; 7—Johnson, Maize, 16:58.55; 8—Avin, Maize, 17:12.2; 9—Castillo, Maize, 17:14.72; 10—Ebers, MS, 17:18.74.
GREAT BEND—38—Braden Suppes, 19:08.72; 54—Trenton Peterson, 20;42.53.

INDIVIDUAL QUALIFIERS—11—x-Leonard, SS, 17:28.67; 19—x-Moses, VC, 18:07.6.