Allen Community College coach Vince DeGrado is building a dynasty in Iola. His men's cross country team has won four straight conference championships and last year the women's team joined the party by winning its own Jayhawk East championship.
DeGrado has plenty of experience building great cross county programs. When he was coaching at Cowley College, DeGrado built a power that culminated with what was arguably the greatest season the NJCAA has ever seen.
In 2010, Cowley swept every championship event in both men's and women's cross county including the D1 NJCAA National Championships and the half marathon. No other NJCAA program has ever accomplished that feat. After that season, DeGrado was the run-away pick as the NJCAA National Coach of the Year.
"The year after I left Cowley after all the national titles and everything, we took a year off from winning championships, but now we've quickly gotten back into that rhythm," DeGrado said. "I don't want to say I take it for granted, because you shouldn't take anything for granted, but that is not the ultimate goal.
"The goal is to be a better version of yourself each year, if you are just trying be what you are last year, then you aren't improving."
Now DeGrado has begun to build another championship-level program at Allen. The men's program saw an immediate turnaround by winning a conference championship in DeGrado's second year at the helm, but the women's team took a little longer to have that same level of success.
In 2015 that changed with the Red Devil women matching the men with a Jayhawk East championship, and going into the new season the women look poised to add to that title.
"It was a surprise to do that," DeGrado said. "We were all freshmen and we had no expectations."
Top runners Kristina Silvers, Kaitlyn Shoemaker and Vicky Ibarra are back to lead the team and they are locks for three spots in the Red Devil lineup.
"Kristina, Kaitlyn and Vicky are a three-headed monster," DeGrado said. "I can't lie, in the recruiting process, it was a nice feeling knowing I was returning those three girls. In the grand scheme of things all I needed was two girls to girls to develop and step up and we will have a special year."
Despite the return of their three leaders, the Red Devils are a very young team overall with Ibarra, Shoemaker and Silvers being the only three sophomores on the team and the other eight Allen runners being freshmen.
"Arguably, this is one of my top recruiting classes that I have had it my career," DeGrado said. "We have no issue of numbers, we just have to develop. We have chance, a serious chance, to win our second-straight conference and region championship and be a podium team (nationally).
"Abby Steinhauser is one that I have a good feeling about because of the (high school) program she comes from and her track record," DeGrado said. "Hannah Johnson and Kim Rodriguez look to be developing and I am really impressed with them. I feel like I have a lot of depth."
There isn't much of a question about who the leader of the Red Devil men's team. Ricardo Banuelos was an all-conference and all-region honoree last season, but DeGrado is excited to see his growth this season.
"Ricardo is just on another level and he has worked hard to get that way," DeGrado said. "He has some goals. He didn't just settle and be happy about where he was. He wanted to get to that other level. He has some high goals and if he stays healthy, I think he will accomplish those."
Obed Quintana and Philip Langeman also are back off of stellar freshman campaigns.
"We need for Obed and Philip to develop," DeGrado said. "We need them to be closer to Ricardo, which is no easy task."
Chris Dunn had a very different sophomore season than Banuelos and the other Allen leaders, but he will be another key member of the 2016 squad.
"Dunn is a returner that I think is going to shock a lot of people," DeGrado said. "Chris is going to come in and do some damage."
The Red Devil freshman class will be relied on to provide the depth that will surely be needed during the grind of a cross country season.
"When you hang your hat on a bunch of freshmen, you never know what you are going to get," DeGrado said. "Ledreche (Bouanga) has shown some stuff already so has Jesus (Gutierrez). Paul Becker has a great resume."
The Red Devils open their season with back-to-back home meets. On August 19, they host the Red Devil Classic and on August 31, the Kings Sandwich Classic comes to Iola.
Despite it being very early, DeGrado is very confident that his young teams can have a big year.
"It is hard to give an outlook because you just don't know for sure, but I've got a system in place and we have tradition," DeGrado said. "Those two things go hand-in-hand. I don't want to say I figured things out because I don't think you can ever say that, but I feel like we're on the right track every year. No one accidently wins."