Young cross country team puts in the work to win meets

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

Pioneer League champions after the league meet in Iola last Thursday, Oct. 14, the Prairie View girls varsity cross country team members are, front row from left, Ashlyn Kennedy, Ryleigh Jeuker, Wylie Teagarden, Bree Allen, back row, Jessica Petric, Kelsie Konitzer, Kallynn Stroup and Ella McCammon. (Screen capture)

With a Pioneer League championship trophy in hand, the Prairie View girls cross country team will be looking for the same result at regionals this Saturday at Fredonia.

Prairie View’s Bree Allen won the 5,000-meter race with a time of 19:58, with Wylie Teagarden placing second with a time of 21:23, a new personal record for her. Ryleigh Leuker came in eighth and also set a new personal record of 23:16.

Kallynn Stroup came in 11th, Kelsie Konitzer was 15th, Jessica Petric placed 18th, Ashlyn Kennedy was 27th and Ella McCammon was 28th.

The success of the girls team has drawn plenty of attention.

Seven of the girls have been on SEK Sports’ top-20 list for the last several weeks. Two more Prairie View runners made the website’s top 40 selections, and three more received an honorable mention.

Allen is currently first on the list after winning the Central Heights race with a personal best and school record time of 19:15. Teagarden is currently 11th place on the SEK list, but she likely will move up after her faster time at the league meet.

Stroup is listed in the next 20, coming in at 24th, now with a personal best of 23:17. She is joined by Leuker at 28th, but she now has a best time of 23:16.

All four of those runners are freshmen.

Honorable mentions on the SEK Sports list went to sophomore Kelsie Konitzer PR 24:39, senior Jessica Petric 24:44, and sophomore Ella McCammon with a time of 25:00.

“For the freshmen, it’s their first season of running the 5K," said their coach, Marcie Caldwell, "but their times are steadily decreasing (times) each week.

“They are learning how to run this longer distance. The upperclassmen are also improving their times each week as their fitness and race strategies improve.”

Top 2 Prairie View girls have been running together since age 10.

The success of the freshmen runners only comes as a surprise to those who don’t know them.

Allen has been running for a club team, the Brocaw Blazers, since she was 8 years old. The Blazers are youth cross country team in the Kansas City metro area coached by David Ramsey, who is the son of long-time Buffalo cross country coach Daryl Ramsey, who is now retired.

Teagarden joined Allen when she was 10 years old. The girls have competed in national meets every year since.

When the two girls entered middle school in sixth grade, they approached the school’s athletic director to ask if they could join the middle school cross country team. At the time, the middle school team was only seventh- and eighth-graders.

The athletic director thought it was a good idea, and he took their request to the Prairie View board of education. The girls appeared before the board, and convinced board members to let sixth-graders join the team.

Allen and Teagarden asked their friend Stroup to join them, and the three girls have been running together ever since.

“Not all sixth-graders are ready for that level of running,” said coach Caldwell. “These girls came in with goals, and they were motivated.”

Sixth-graders run in the seventh-grade races, which are 2 miles long. Eighth-graders also run 2 miles, and high schoolers run 5K, or 3.1 miles.

Along with cross country, the athletes compete in multiple sports. Allen and Teagarden compete in cross country, track and basketball at Prairie View, as well as continuing to run for the Brocaw Blazers.

Stroup plays club soccer year-round for the Toca FC MLS division 1 team. She is also on the state of Kansas Olympic development team. She does this while competing in cross country, basketball and track at Prairie View.

When asked what the teammates like best about cross country, they all agreed it’s the feeling they have when they cross the finish line, and when they beat their own personal record.

The girls agreed that it was important for all the runners, sixth through 12th grades, to be a part of a team.

They also agreed that the team members are like family, working together and being good to each other. And they are planning on taking that family to the state meet this year.

Allen and Teagarden qualified for the state meet in seventh grade and were joined by Stroup in eighth grade.

The three believe that many people have misconceptions about their sport. “Many people take our sport for granted and they don’t understand how much work we do," said Allen.

“A lot of sports use our sport as punishment,” Teagarden added.

Stroup said she thought coach Caldwell’s commitment to the team was great. “It’s cool that our coach runs with us.”

“Other coaches don’t run with their team,” Allen said.

Caldwell started running her sophomore year at Prairie View. She was asked by her friends Tara Allen, who is Bree Allen’s mother, and Chellie Payne to join them.

“I have run my whole adult life,” Caldwell said.

She has competed in two marathons, including one in Chicago, as well as half-marathons and 5K races. She ran in the Kansas City half-marathon last Saturday, two days after the league meet.

Caldwell has been coaching cross country at Prairie View since 2017. She is joined by Joy Epperson, who also coaches wrestling.

“I love the sport,” said Caldwell. “The best thing is seeing it click for my kids – when they realize this is what we’ve been working for and seeing the joy in them when that happens.”

When asked if runners focus on their personal best or winning the race, Coach Caldwell says, “It depends on the runner!”

Coach Caldwell tells her runners, “Not every race is good. You’re going to have bad races, and races that are hard.”

When she hears them complain about the distance, she replies, “That’s why other people don’t run. You don’t have to be fast, but it helps.”

“The main goal is to improve,” the coach said. “When you run long distance, you will gain confidence in every aspect of your life.

“We do group runs three days a week during the summer in preparation for the official season to start in August. Having a good base of mileage prior to the season puts the runners at a better advantage when the first race comes.”

She adds that her goal is to pass her love of running on to her athletes. “My high school years in cross country set me up for a lifetime of running, gave me a pure love of the sport, and I hope to pass that love of running, and its many benefits, to every student who goes through this program.”

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