Last car in the lot.

It's not an uncommon sight in doing what we do. Thanks to the ability to write stories from the site, reporters are often the final people at a venue, sometimes leaving even after the maintenance folks.

The image of the final vehicle on the grounds stands out more at the cross country state finals since, unlike most other events, you're parking in a field. The throng of wheels and humanity that engulfs the Lavern Gibson Championship Course from the late morning into the mid-afternoon is juxtaposed with the solitude and desolation of the early evening, the point at which my writing, save for the results I type later during dinner in Crawfordsville, is at long last done.

The laptop closes and another season is in the books. Save for treks up and down bleachers at a football game, no other sport provides a (much-needed) workout like chasing around a cross country course. A month ago, I sweat off three pounds in the sweltering heat at Highland. On Saturday, temperatures were in the 40s and little Logan Ferngren could barely keep her teeth from chattering while recapping her race.

The Viking senior was clutch, a steady presence the last four years for coach Boomer Nellessen. You just don't replace someone like that by simply putting another body in the lineup. Valpo will return five of its top seven, paced by Ava Gilliana (46th), so talent won't be a question. Who leads the team will be. A disappointing finish could provide the motivation.

Lowell, which topped the Vikings at state for the best Region finish (11th), brings back six of its seven, headed by Jordyn Boyer (ninth), and 10 of its 12, more help is on the way. The Red Devils' star is still rising. The same goes for Chesterton, which has its lead trio, paced by Shelby Bullock (13th), returning to head a group that featured two freshmen. Crown Point was even younger, but its sole loss, all-stater Hannah Wylie, is a big one.

Individually, Wheeler freshman Hailey Orosz (58th) heads the next wave looking to break into the girls' elite ranks with Boyer, Bullock, Gilliana and C.P.'s Maddie Russin and LaPorte's Shelby Riehle, who labored through the postseason with an injury.

While the story lines may not change too much for the girls, it looks like the script could feature some new characters among the boys.

Senior-laden Valpo didn't have a bona fide star, but the boys wound up being the only Region team to medal. With five graduating runners, the Vikings will have plenty of holes to fill. Ditto for Lowell (12th) with four seniors, including front runner Alec Fleming. He and Chesterton's Jake Kintzele (seventh) will take their talents to the collegiate level.

The door for Region supremacy in the boys ranks is wide open. C.P. brings back five of its seven, but the seniors, Aaron Kamstra and Josh Whitaker, were both in its top three.

Morgan Township captured attention in bidding to become the first Porter County Conference school to make it to state, unfortunately falling short. While it returns Trevor Braden (28th), it graduates four from the semistate lineup, so the ticket window to Terre Haute may have closed for the Cherokees. Looking for somebody new to break into the mix? Keep an eye on Highland with six runners back, including state qualifier Isaac Syysma.

With so many seniors moving on, the individual mantel is up for grabs with Braden, budding standout Gabe Sanchez of Lowell, Sytsma, Valpo's Nate Smith and C.P.'s Geno Christofanelli in the hunt.

I hope you all enjoyed your Sunday off. I know you were back running on Monday.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.