By RICK PETERSON
Obviously, the goal for Topeka West senior cross country star Lenny Njoroge is always going to be to win.
But Saturday's Joe Schrag Invitational at Kanza Park was one day when Njoroge could be proud of a second-place finish.
For one thing, it took an outstanding performance, by Lincoln College Prep junior Isaac Rivera, to beat him, and even in defeat, Njoroge ran the best five-kilometer time of his career.
Rivera clocked a 5K time of 15 minutes, 09.82, while Njoroge, running only his second race after missing the 2021 season with a broken leg, finished second in 15:24.61, 39 seconds in front of the third-place finisher.
"He ran a heck of a race, he's impresssive,'' Njoroge said of Rivera.
Njoroge admitted that the Missouri runner caught him somewhat by surprise.
"At the start of the race I was just like, 'OK, it's a home meet, it's probably going to just be me (out front),' and then the gun goes off and we get to 400 meters and I see somebody right next to me and I'm like, 'Where did he come from?' '' Njoroge said.
Njoroge and Rivera ran together for a good chunk of the race before Rivera pulled away late, but Njoroge wasn't disappointed with his performance.
"I felt awesome,'' said Njoroge, who doubles up in soccer for Topeka West. "As Donnie (Palmer, West coach) said I'm in the best shape of my life right now. And I'm having the best time of my life, too. It's incredible.
"I'll take this and move on.''
While Rivera and Njoroge stole the show individually, Shawnee Heights had a battle of its own, with the T-Birds winning the team championship by a single point (50-51) over Lincoln Prep.
Junior Jackson Esquibel (16:15.64) and senior Kory Sutton (16:22.16) finished fourth and fifth for the T-Birds while Heights senior Andrew Emerson finished eighth (16:58.32).
Sophomore Evan Carter was 16th (17:30.54) and sophomore Isaac Song 24th (18:07.04) to round out Shawnee Heights' five scorers.
Seaman finished fourth as a team, with senior Zach Jowers finishing sixth (16:26.20) and seniors Branen Moore (17:15.40) and Landon Stuke (17:16.83) taking 13th and 14th.
Senior Andrew Storrer paced Topeka High with a 32nd-place finish (18:47.57).
JOE SCHRAG INVITATIONAL
Shawnee Heights 50, Lincoln Prep, Mo. 51, Lansing 63, Seaman 70, Leavenworth 109, Topeka High 162.
1. Isaac Rivera, Lincoln Prep, 15:09.82; 2. Lenny Njoroge, Topeka West, 15:24.61; 3. Jackson Steger, Lansing, 16:03.69; 4. Jackson Esquibel, Shawnee Heights, 16:15.64; 5. Kory Sutton, Shawnee Heights, 16:22.16; 6. Zach Jowers, Seaman, 16:26.20; 7. Shawn Sullivan, Leavenworth, 16:31.31; 8. Andrew Emerson, Shawnee Heights, 16:58.32; 9. Coleman Keck, Lincoln Prep, 17:01.36; 10. Roman Garcia, Licoln Prep, 17:04.40.