A season ago Shawnee Mission North’s girls cross country team was on the verge of a state title only to finish third one point behind state champion Manhattan, who won on a tiebreaker over Free State.
Led by senior Amber Reed and sophomore Katie Kasunic, the Lady Indians have a different mentality this year.
It’s this mentality, which makes them so dangerous. There isn’t a clear No. 1 runner, a clear No.2 runner or a clear Nos. 3, 4 or 5 runners. Sure, Reed and Kasunic are usually the top two runners for SM North, but the order always changes.
Same goes for the next three finishers. It could be any order of juniors Molly Ryan, Cassie Raines or sophomore Abby Onnen.
Reed is very confident heading into her final race of her high school career — the Class 6A state meet at Rim Rock Farms in Lawrence.
“I really want win state as a team; I’ve never done it before,” Reed said.
Reed, and she was echoed by Kasunic and Ryan, that every point matters, especially from the No. 6 finisher, who could decide first or second if it comes down to a tiebreaker.
The plan is for Reed, who finished fifth individually last year, and Kasunic, who finished 12th, get out ahead and try and stay together as long as possible while the other five work as a team a little further back before making a final push at the end.
Kasunic said this team is very tight-knit. They’re able to keep each other accountable and are able to speak their minds to help motivate one another.
Last year’s finish taught the girls they have to work together and do it for each other instead of themselves.
And that’s not to say they were selfish last year.
“It makes us push each other a little more because, ‘Oh, you’re right there, that’s where you need to be,’” Kasunic said. “I can go out and possibly race against this girl. You’re not scared to compete with your own teammate. ‘Oh, she’s usually ahead of me so I can’t pass her.’”
With the Lady Indians having, essentially, three No. 3 runners, they will be the ones who decide where SM North will finish as a team.
Ryan said she and her teammates are motivated to make sure a one-point loss doesn’t happen again.
A lot of her motivation is Reed.
“I’m a junior, so I still have next year to come back, but I’m going to be trying to run for Amber,” Ryan said. “Since this is her final season to have a state championship. I’m going to work my best to place better for the team as a whole.”
Besides not worrying about times and caring more about placement, coach Aaron Davidson has been preaching #EarnIt and “wonder and believe.”
“Wonder what the state title is going to feel like and believe that you can do it,” Ryan said. “Wonder what it’s going to be like for the sixth runner to beat the other team’s sixth runner on a tiebreaker and believe they can do that, and how good that feeling will feel. Wonder, but then believe you can do great things, but you have to work hard and earn it to have that.”