Kings of the (Big) Hill — Iola finishes atop medal stand

Buoyed by Jesse Taylor's first ever career cross country victory, Iola High's harriers placed four runners in the top six and easily beat all comers to win the Parsons Invitational. The win came at Big Hill Lake on one of the toughest courses in the state.



September 17, 2021 - 2:22 PM

Iola High's Jesse Taylor, second from left, leads a caravan of runners in the early going of the Parsons Invitational Cross Country Meet at Big Hill Lake Thursday. Taylor wound up winning the his first career cross country race. Photo by Montgomery County Chronicle

BIG HILL RESERVOIR — It’s perhaps the toughest course of the cross country season.

Labette County’s Big Hill Reservoir features a little bit of everything. It starts and ends in a valley, but the middle features steep inclines as runners meander their way along the reservoir’s western shoreline.

Tack on temperatures in the upper 80s, and a healthy heaping of Kansas humidity, and just finishing upright is an accomplishment in itself.

Iola High School’s varsity cross country runners are, from left, Drake DeLaTorre, Travis Wanker, Cole Moyer, J.J. Ruth, Kaster Trabuc, Eli Adams, Jesse Taylor, Elaine Sturgeon and Sage Barney.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

So it stands that the Big Hill meet, hosted by Parsons High School, also provided the highlight of the early portion of Iola High’s 2021 cross country season.

Led by Mustang junior Jesse Taylor’s first-place finish — his first ever cross country individual title — the Mustangs placed four of the top six runners in easily outdistancing Anderson County for the team championship as well.

Not to be outdone, Iola’s Elanie Sturgeon and Sage Barney placed fifth and seventh, respectively, in the girls race, to earn medals.

“I was proud of how I did,” said Taylor, whose time of 20 minutes, 18.62 seconds is actually about 2½ minutes slower than what he normally runs on a typical 5K. “But this course is so tough.”

In fact, Taylor’s time was a full 22 seconds ahead of his Mustang teammate, freshman Cole Moyer, in second.

Tack on Kaster Trabuc’s fourth-place finish, Eli Adams in sixth, and you have a Mustang-dominated leaderboard.

Also withstanding the brutal conditions were J.J. Rutoh in 15th, Drake DeLaTorre in 17th and Travis Wanker in 18th.

Taylor took the lead within the first 200 yards of the starting gun, and never looked back.

In fact, the biggest challenge, Taylor said, was not having any competitors to help him set his pace.

“It’s definitely more challenging when it’s just the cart in front of you, and  there isn’t anybody around you,” he said. “You don’t really know what pace to go.”

Nevertheless, Taylor maintained his lead throughout.

The victory comes after Taylor finished in third in his first two meets of the season.

“This is training for state for sure,” said Taylor, who has raced at the state meet in Wamego as both a freshman and sophomore, and is looking to make it three trips in a row.

Wamego’s course, like Big Hill, is renowned for its hilly terrain, typically much steeper than anything runners in or around Allen County can find.

Yates Center High’s Jarrett Birk runs in the boys junior varsity race at Big Hill Lake Thursday.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

YATES CENTER’S runners also were a part of the junior varsity competition.

Jarrett Birk took 12th in the boys JV. A.J. Belcher led Yates Center’s JV girls runners, placing 21st, followed by Courtney Spoon in 27th and Alexis Sirota in 28th.