RSSBoys Cross Country
Pat Montalbano is a longtime supporter of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame.
"I usually attend all the induction ceremonies," he said. "It's great to see some of the outstanding players I've coached and coached against get the recognition they deserve."
Montalbano also tries to keep the Hall of Fame up to date.
"I thought he was one of the best three-sport athletes we've had here," Montalbano said of a player he once coached at Clark, "so I sent in a nomination form with his name on it."
Some time later, Montalbano got a letter from the HOF.
"At first I thought he got in," Montalbano said, "but when I glanced at the letter, I saw his name wasn't listed with the 2014 class so I just put it away without paying much attention to it."
Later, a colleague contacted Montalbano and suggested he should read the letter again, this time more closely.
"I didn't think I was part of the conversation," said Montalbano, who was surprised -- to say the least -- that he was among the seven chosen to be enshrined March 11 during the induction ceremony/dinner at the Hammond Civic Center.
"It still hasn't hit me," said Montalbano, who was Clark's high school athletic director from 2006-2010 after serving as Clark's middle school athletic director for nearly 30 years. "It probably will when I step up to the podium."
Montalbano, 64, of Chicago, played football and participated in track at St. Francis de Sales.
"I never was a star athlete," said Montalbano, who was a second-teamer at both offensive line and linebacker, and threw discus and shot put for the Pioneers. "That likely helped me as a coach. Sitting on the bench forced me to learn more about the game. I always felt more of a connection with players who had hustle and work extra hard to make up for their lack of ability."
During his tenure at Clark, Montalbano coached baseball, football, basketball, track and cross country, compiling winning records and championships in most ventures.
From 1977 to 2000, Montalbano was head coach for the Pioneers middle school boys basketball team, which went 373-270 during that span. He received conference "Coach of the Year" awards twice during his three-year stint as Clark's varsity baseball head coach, which resulted in three conference titles, two sectional titles, and a school-first regional title in 2006.
Montalbano also served as an varsity assistant coach for Clark's football and baseball teams, and assisted Bob Navta with Clark's middle school cross country teams, which won 11 straight city championships.
Whatever sport Montalbano coached, getting kids to come out and stay out was never a problem.
"I believe if a kid makes the team and shows up for practice, he's going to play," Montalbano said. "Yeah, sometimes you might lose a game here or there if you make sure everyone on the bench is going to get in an inning or two, but I've found out that so many times it's the guy you least expect is the one who comes through for you in the end.
"All they needed was the chance."
Montalbano still teaches high school math at Clark, where he was named "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" in 1995.
"Being a math teacher requires a lot of prep time, and if you're athletic director who also coaches, it can really wear you down," Montalbano said of why he stepped away from athletic administration and coaching three years ago. "It was time for some new blood to take over. Now, after work I can come straight home and spend more time with my wife (Suzanne)."
Rich Rust can recall as if it were yesterday when the Hebron boys basketball team traveled to Lafayette Jeff for the regional.
"It was (as if) the whole town of Hebron shut down," Rust said. "Both in 1974 and 1976 we played Jeff in the championship and we had a big following."
He said it was kind of special as the Hawks won the Kankakee Valley Sectional and were playing in a historic gym.
"Once we got used to the big crowd, we made the adjustment and we were fine," Rust said. "It was a thrill to play in that gym and against Jeff. We played hard, but we just didn't have enough."
In the morning regional game in 1974, the Hawks beat North White and in 1976, it was Frontier. Twice they faced the Bronchos in the regional championship and lost.
Rust went on to play one year at Alaska-Anchorage, then he transferred to Fort Hays State in Kansas. Now, he is the concrete superintendent for Empire Contractors, Inc. in Evansville.
Before leaving for college, Rust was one of the best athletes to come out of Hebron. The 1976 graduate starred in basketball, baseball, cross country and track.
He was a two-time Porter County Conference basketball player of the year (1974-75 and 1975-76), all-conference in track and field in 1974 (high jump), '75 (800, high jump) and '76 (440, 880 relay), and all-PCC in cross country in 1974 and 1975.
In basketball, he averaged 19.1 points-per-game his junior year and 16.8 his senior year as he was named first-team all-state for small schools by the Bloomington Herald. In his three-year varsity career, he had 875 total rebounds.
"That was a lot of fun and being at a small school, I was able to play all four sports," Rust said. "The PCC was good basketball, and we had a tough one every Friday. We knew each other, played against each other in the summer and loved the competition."
The Hawks won the South County Tournament all four years he was at Hebron.
"The South County Tournament was really special," Rust said. "Back then, you didn't have a lot do. There was no Internet, cellphones, so a lot of kids showed up to the games. It was like a postseason atmosphere. It was really special for the small schools to have our own tourney."
Jeff Barker wasn’t looking to come home, but is sure glad he did.
You might not know much about the University of St. Francis in Joliet, but Barker is quietly making headlines and turning the program into a cross country powerhouse.
The Highland native and 1999 Bishop Noll grad led the Saints to the 2012 NAIA National Championship. The team has been ranked No. 1 in the top 25 poll the last nine weeks, so you could say it has a pretty good shot at adding another title later this month.
“The funny thing is we came into this season with five of our top seven (runners returning), but right now only two of them are (in the mix),” Barker said. “We now have three freshmen in the top seven. We had a great recruiting class. It’s like a brand-new team.”
Barker, who attended Our Lady of Grace in Highland and ran for Rick Torres at Bishop Noll, barely had time to unpack when he took over the job in 2012.
He said he took over the program on Aug. 6, the runners came in on Aug. 11 for camp, and they moved forward quickly with a new system he wanted to put in place. Barker said it was an adjustment period at first, because the kids really liked the former coach and the training styles were a bit different. But he’s got them all bought in now and the results are showing.
“The kids have really been receptive to changes,” said Barker, who coached at Andrean under Torres before moving to the college level. “Coach Torres is the one who got me into coaching. He’s been a great mentor.”
The program at the University of St. Francis is only seven years old, but Barker said he has about 30 runners, including freshman Alex Cordova (Hobart) and Jesse Unzueta (Thornwood), on the roster. Barker also coaches the women’s team and is the program’s track and field coach.
“We were home in Highland for the Fourth of July (in 2012) and I saw a posting on-line for the job,” Barker said. “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a job open in Joliet and that’s a good program.’ I got the interview and the rest is history.”
Barker lives in Plainfield with his wife Alanna and 2-year-old daughter, Lynleigh. His parents, James and Deborah, still live in Highland, where Jeff commuted from last year before purchasing a home closer to work.
Barker actually started the program at Calumet College, a job he said he really liked and worked at from 2005-07, but it was only part-time. He landed a job at Fontbonne University, Division III school in St. Louis, and coached there from 2011-12. From 2007-2011, he coached at Kansas Wesleyan University. He was the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in women’s cross country in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2009, he led the women’s cross country team to the program’s first NAIA championship appearance and first NAIA top 25 ranking.
St. Francis is coming off Saturday’s Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship held at Sunset Hill Farm in Valparaiso. The Saints were edged 42-43 by No. 4 Olivet Nazarene.
Barker and his runners now gear up for the NAIA National Championship on Nov. 23 in Lawrence, Kan.
“We have a good shot, but the top five teams are all really good and really close,” Barker said.
After all these years of trekking to Terre Haute for the state cross country meet, you'd think I'd know the trip like the back of my hand.
But those of you who know me well enough are aware I'm as directionally challenged as I am vertically and follicularly (growing hair). Photographer Danny Shelton managed to get me to the course just in time. On the way back, I probably saw about an hour more of east-central Indiana (read desolate) than I needed or wanted to see.
For region teams, the issue isn't getting to LaVern Gibson, it's what they do once they get there. Last Saturday marked the third time in four years on the boys side and fourth time in five years for the girls that NWI has failed to get a school on the awards truck; i.e., finishing in the top five.
LaPorte's 10th-place finish topped the girls, while Munster (12th) led the boys. Valpo's boys, the region standard bearer in recent years, were once considered a medal contender, but were nowhere to be found, lagging in 18th.
A state hotbed for the sport not all that long ago, the area has slipped a couple rungs on the competitive ladder. Never mind hanging with Carmel. With the exception of Columbus North, the Greyhounds are in a class unto themselves, the winners of four consecutive girls crowns and the last two boys.
This isn't about winning state titles — something that hasn't happened since 2005, when Valpo captured its third straight girls trophy — this is about simply getting back into the mix. It goes back to 2001, when Valpo claimed the top boys prize.
It doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon. West Lafayette swept the New Prairie Semistate and both squads are locked and loaded to maintain supremacy in the northern third of the state.
Were we spoiled by the glory days of region cross country? Was the bar set too high to sustain? Is this the new normal? At the risk of sounding all Gloomy Gus, I hazard to guess that the answers are yes, yes and yes.
That said, success in running isn't simply measured by hardware. The good news for the sport in our area is it appears the overall ranks are strengthening. State qualifiers Munster, Lake Central and Crown Point all return the core of their boys lineups, as does near-miss LaPorte. With Valpo facing major graduation losses again, the balance of power in our trio of counties could be shifting. Among the girls, Portage and Lake Central appear set for a good battle at the top.
Individually, Munster's Ryan Kritzer looks primed to become the new lead dog among boys, establishing himself as such in the postseason, while the girls field looks to be wide, wide open in the post-Elena Lancioni era. A true ambassador of the sport, she will be missed.
Congrats to Lancioni, schoolmate Anthony Didion, the Aaron Rodgers doppelganger, and Lowell's Brian Blaylock on their selection to the Indiana All-Star team. They will compete in the Mideast Meet of Champions Nov. 16 in Kettering, Ohio, closing the book on the 2013 season.
In the meantime, anybody who has a fool-proof (with emphasis on fool) route to and from the state finals venue, please let me know. I'd appreciate it.
TERRE HAUTE | When a runner leads as many races as Elena Lancioni has in her career, people may not notice whether she has a kick or not.
The LaPorte senior sure showed it in Saturday's state cross country finals, turning on the jets to pick off three runners down the long final straightaway and capture third place. She broke her own school record — again — with a time of 18 minutes, 3.5 seconds at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
"The girl who was fourth (Rachel Nichwitz of Hamilton Southeastern) is a good friend. I fought to pass her. She came back, but I wasn't going to let her beat me," Lancioni said. "It was my last race with the team, my last race as a Slicer. I still have track, but cross country's my favorite. I had to represent. I was going to give it all I had."
The showing continued Lancioni's progression in four state meets, improving from 28th as a freshman to 21st as a sophomore and 16th as a junior.
"To go from 16th to third is crazy," she said. "It's been such an amazing journey. I can't tell you how great it is."
LaPorte coach John Dearing said Lancioni positioned herself well for her late strike.
"We didn't necessarily want her to lead, protect herself, just stay with the lead pack 'til she was ready to make her move," Dearing said. "She's been running with such confidence this year."
Lancioni's finish boosted LaPorte to 10th place as a team with 344 points, the best among area schools.
"They (all) ran very well. They all had good times," Dearing said. "I had no idea how they'd do here, it's such a big event. Our other top four all ran the Nike meet here, which helps, but this is a whole different thing. They seem to have handled every situation all year long. Our goal all year was to get here, but I've told them, they keep achieving, so they have to keep advancing their goals, and our goal was top 10. That was our aim."
The only other local runner in the top 50 was Lancioni's teammate, sophomore Kailee Schoof (48th). Kelcy Welch won in 17:53.9 to pace Carmel to another team title with 76 points.
Portage came in 15th (394), up from 21st a year ago, and Lake Central was 22nd (512). Both teams ran six underclassmen.
"We knew LaPorte would be tough (to beat) with Elena up there," Portage coach Jay White said. "We ran well. They packed up, like they've been doing all season. We brought 11 girls and 10 of them have been in the meet before. They're a year older. They put in a lot of time and effort in the summer. They were ready. They really wanted to come down here and perform well, give it their best, and I think they did."
TERRE HAUTE | LaPorte's elite club of distance runners gained a new member at Saturday's boys state cross country finals.
With his fourth-place finish, Slicers senior Anthony Didion etched his name alongside Mike Fout, Matt Miller and Mitch Hubner.
"I've trained for this for so many years," Didion said. "For the results to finally show, I feel on top of the world. It's a guts race. You just try to hold on as long as you can. I felt good at the two mile and kicked it in the third mile. It was something."
Boy, did he ever. Didion passed approximately 10 runners in the 400-meter home stretch to cross the finish line at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in 15 minutes, 43.9 seconds. He improved on his 2012 showing by 80 places.
"I've never raced well here," said Didion, who had the names of his coach and teammates written on his arm. "No matter who went out, I was going to stay in the pack. To post the time I did and (get) the place I did, it means a lot. I didn't expect anything less. You set your goals high and try to achieve them."
Didion was joined on the awards stand by Lowell senior Brian Blaylock, who claimed 11th place in 15:50.3. On the advice of coach Jake Rakoczy, he worked with state-champion Carmel's lead pack.
"He said they would run a smart race," Blaylock said. "It's my last high school race. I wasn't expecting 11th. When I heard them get down to 15th, I was thinking I was like 22nd, 23rd, maybe. I wanted top 20. Going crazy, I would say top 15. Eleventh is really crazy. It's my last year. I wanted to make my last race a good one. It's pretty exciting."
Blaylock's showing earned him another run as he qualified to compete for Indiana in the Midwest Meet of Champions.
"I wanted to carry on Lowell," he said, referring to Kyle Eller's fifth-place finish last season, "to show everybody that Lowell's a good school, too."
Munster junior Ryan Kritzer sneaked into the last all-state spot, 25th, getting the good news from a teammate and assistant coach who saw the results. His time was 16:04.4
"I thought I missed it, until now. I thought I was further back," Kritzer said. "I definitely went out faster than I used to. Going up the hill to the 2K, I felt it. I just kept pressing forward. I tried to block it out as much as I could. Coming around the corner, I knew people were coming. I just held them off the best I could."
Kritzer's finish boosted the Mustangs to the top showing among area teams, 13th with 347 points. Carmel edged Columbus North, 64-78, to defend its title.
"I asked somebody, how do you go from getting sixth in the semistate to getting 13th here?" Munster coach Aaron Brown said. "That doesn't coordinate well, but I'm not complaining. I'm very pleased. You never know how it's going to work out, but we ran better and some teams who beat us (at semistate) didn't run as well. It's going to be a nice ride home."
Among other area teams, Valparaiso was a disappointing 18th (416), followed by Crown Point (19th, 422) and Lake Central (23rd, 587).
Terre Haute South's Jackson Bertoli won the race in a dramatic finish. Fort Wayne Concordia's Zachery Panning held a comfortable lead in the last 200 meters, but fell several times before staggering to the line in 23rd.
ST. JOHN | Most of them don't shave yet. They just got their driver's licenses. And if they were any younger, they'd be in daycare.
Lake Central's state-bound boys cross country team has seven sophomores among its top 12 runners.
Its top five scoring individuals at the New Prairie Semistate may have been the youngest in the state.
And today, they'll run the biggest race so far in their careers at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.
As they put in their final workouts of the season this week, no one had that deer-in-the-headlights look or bit their nails.
It's unlikely any of the Indians will be doubled over a bucket today, a basket case of nerves.
"We were more nervous at semistate before we made it (out)," said sophomore Zach Hupp. "I'm excited getting to see what the state meet is all about. If we don't do as good as we expect, it's our first year going down and we have two more years.
"Other than Tyler (Kramer-Stephens), who ran for another program, no one here has seen the state course."
Lake Central placed fifth at New Prairie — only the top six teams advanced — and was led by Hupp (15th, 16:24.4) and Stephens (20th, 16:28.2)
Hupp said many of his teammates knew each other in middle school, before their running careers began, and that has only tightened the bond on varsity.
"You're not just running for yourself, you're running for your family and friends," Hupp added.
"Last year when they were all freshmen, they stood out with fast times already," said senior Daniel Gustas. "This year, they knew they'd have to be at the top and they stepped up early like juniors and seniors normally do.
"We don't have a lot of (upperclassmen), so they had to take charge. They haven't shown they're afraid of anyone, which I don't think they're gonna do the next two years when they're going down again."
Fearlessness, like pace and a good kick, is critical in cross country.
"Our packing is extremely close," Hupp said. "We're all within a minute of each other in the race."
First-year head coach Jeff Rhody, a 1988 Portage grad, saw potential over the summer but is still pleasantly surprised.
"These guys are the most workman-like team I've ever coached," Rhody said. "You think they're young, they're gonna have all these nerves, but day in and day out, they've run against the biggest competition.
"They don't get too high or too low. It's amazing, their maturity level."
Three runners, one lineup spot.
About 15 minutes before Saturday's state cross country race, Valparaiso coach Mike Prow will walk up to either Kevin Mangel, Connor Ritzi or Drew Finley to let them know they will be running. The other two seniors, in turn, will know they are not.
"It's really tough," Prow said. "It's harder than cutting a kid. I don't ever remember where it was with three guys. I'll go over the pluses and minuses with (assistant coach) Aaron (Crague), but there aren't really any minuses."
In 1974, Prow was a junior at Ben Davis High School. He shared the story with his runners of how his best friend, a senior, didn't get to run in the state meet.
"He's still bitter," Prow said.
To Prow's relief, that doesn't sound like it will be an issue. Talking mid-week, each of the three said they will be disappointed if they're not chosen, but will also be happy for their teammate who is picked.
"It's going to be a bittersweet feeling," Ritzi said. "It's definitely going to hurt, no matter what. I'll feel bad (if it's me), knowing they've been working as hard as me."
Mangel's wish? That the rosters were nine instead of seven.
"We've been working for four years," he said. "We've been under the top guys our whole career. Now it's our turn. All three of us want the same spot. It's pretty stressful, not knowing, but it's tough for the coaches, too."
The three have rotated invitational and postseason events all season, finishing in succession, only a handful of seconds apart, at the Rensselaer Invitational, where they all posted personal bests. Finley ran in the Duneland Athletic Conference championship. Mangel got the nod in the sectional and regional, with Ritzi racing at semistate.
"It's hard to put somebody in the state meet who hasn't run (in the tournament)," Prow said. "I want all three to feel ready to go to the line if they get the call."
Mangel has been running since he was 7, following the cross country program from a young age. Ritzi and Finley started later, developing a passion for the sport as well.
"The last three, four years have been building to this point," Ritzi said. "It's something we all want really bad."
"Running's become a part of my life," said Finley, once a 'middle of the pack' guy. "We're all good friends, especially the senior group, and this has made us grow even closer. We've worked year-round to get where we are. It's been a dream. We all want it right now to prove what we've done was right."
Come decision time, Prow expects hurt feelings. He would be disappointed if there weren't.
"I won't blame them if they're upset with me," he said. "That means they were positive, they had no doubts in their mind. They'll take it well. They're all team guys. They'll all rally around each other. It's all a part of learning to be a better runner, coping with things. This won't be the worst thing that will ever happen to them."
Valpo's pack running approach emphasizes how each individual is competing not just for himself, but for his teammates. If one gets a team medal, all 12 on the state roster get a medal. That will be a particular emphasis Saturday for the member of the triad who gets to race.
"At the end of the day, it's not about you," Mangel said. "It's about how the team performs."
When: Noon today.
Where: Lavern Gibson Championship Course, Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, 599 S. Tabortown Rd., Terre Haute.
Participating teams: (Boys) Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Carmel, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Columbus North, Crown Point, Evansville North, Fort Wayne Dwenger, Homestead, Indianapolis Brebeuf, Indianapolis North Central, Lake Central, Lawrence North, Munster, Northridge, South Adams, South Bend Riley, South Knox, Terre Haute North, Valparaiso, Warsaw, Westfield, West Lafayette, Zionsville. (Girls) Avon, Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Carmel, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Columbus North, Floyd Central, Franklin Central, Homestead, Huntington North, Jasper, Lake Central, LaPorte, Lawrence North, Northridge, Pendleton Heights, Penn, Portage, Terre Haute North, Twin Lakes, Warsaw, Westfield, West Lafayette, Zionsville,
Favorites: Carmel boys and Carmel girls.
Darkhorses: Columbus North boys and West Lafayette girls.
Local runners to watch: (Boys) Bishop Noll -- Sal Cordova; Crown Point -- Tyler Gray, Ryan Kepshire; Hobart -- Brent Dunn; Lake Central -- Zach Hupp, Tyler Kramer-Stephens; LaPorte -- Anthony Didion; Lowell -- Brian Blaylock; Munster -- Ryan Kritzer, Tommy Bolanowski; Valparaiso -- Ari Coulopoulos, Andrew Jankowski. (Girls) Hobart -- Celena Guerrero, Mindy Whidden; Lake Central -- Megan Zajac, Sarah Hunsley; LaPorte -- Elena Lancioni, Kailee Schoof; Portage -- Rebecca Timm; South Central -- Kyleigh Werner; Valparaiso -- Michaela Gazdich, Alison Mundell.
Fast facts: Zachery Panning of Fort Wayne Concordia is the top returning boy, finishing second last year; Coulopoulos (15th) is the top returning local runner; Valparaiso's boys finished third last year; Mackenzie Caldwell of Columbus North is the top returning girl, finishing fourth last year; Lancioni (16th) is the top returning local runner; Portage (21st) is the top returning local team; Carmel is defending champion in both races; Carmel's girls have won three titles in a row.
-- Jim Peters
John Collet wasn't trying to imitate Pheidippides, the first marathoner, but he ran the same way Pheidippides did.
"We used to run our meets barefoot," Collet said. "I liked it, and I felt comfortable.
"Of course, we ran on soft courses, golf courses like Cressmoor (Country Club in Hobart). It was just natural to run in your bare feet."
Collet said he won his first sectional in bare feet, then the IHSAA said runners had to run in shoes.
Collet had quite a prep career. He was a four-time sectional champion in cross country.
"I am proud of that because that is one record that will never be broken," he said. "It can be tied but never broken."
He is part of the Indiana Association of Track Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame Museum's silver and golden anniversary team. Collet, a 1966 Griffith grad, is part of the gold team which will be honored Saturday at the IHSAA state cross country finals in Terre Haute.
"It is an honor and I am looking forward to seeing those guys, especially (Hall of Fame director) Marshall Goss," Collet said. "My wife Carol was a big part of it and my coaching career, and she will be there, too."
Collet won the state 2-mile championship in 1966 with a time of 9:31.
He was runner-up his junior and senior years in the state cross country meet. In 1964, he finished second to West Lafayette's Mark Gibbons, who set a state meet record in 9:26.6. The previous best was set in 1963 by Indianapolis Washington's Dennis Grider (9:40).
"I beat the old mark, too, but didn't win," Collet said.
His successes earned him a scholarship to DePaul where he competed in both sports. The Blue Demons had to be creative since they had no true track facility other than running the halls of old Alumni Hall.
"Lincoln Park was where we ran," Collet said. "We trained outdoors all year-long and I think it made us tougher and better runners."
That included the blizzard of 1967.
"Running in snow made your legs stronger," Collet said. " I used that when I coached track at Bloom Trail. My guys hated it, but come the end of the season when it counted, they were in great shape."
Collet went to coach cross country at Griffith, Highland and Bloom Trail. His 1983 Bloom Trail team was second in the Illinois High School Association's Class AA meet, losing 49-46 to East St. Louis Lincoln. The 1985 Trail Blazers were third in Class AA. At Bloom Trail, he had some great track meets with Bloom, coached by legendary coach Lonnell Poole, for the bragging rights of Chicago Heights.
"Lonnell always had a powerhouse and all those kids knew each other," Collet said. "We had some great teams back then and our conference (SICA East) had Homewood-Flossmoor, Thornton, Thornridge, Thornwood, us and Bloom. A great track conference."
Collet and Carol are busy getting their new sporting goods store ready for its opening. They merged St. John Sports and Mike's Sporting Goods and will open a new Mike's Sporting Goods in a strip mall in Schererville.
NEW CARLISLE | The bubble that burst on Munster and Crown Point at last year's New Prairie Semistate claimed another victim Saturday.
This time, it was LaPorte that was left with its nose pressed against the window, on the outside looking in.
In an ironic twist of fortune, the Mustangs, who finished one point out of the money in seventh place in 2012, took sixth place this time, one point ahead of LaPorte, 181-182.
"We're fortunate we were able to sneak in," Munster coach Aaron Brown said, his heart still pounding. "We didn't run very well, except for Ryan Kritzer."
Kritzer's fourth-place finish pulled Munster through.
"It's a relief, being on the opposite end last year," Kritzer said. "I wanted to latch on to the top guys and try to stay with them. I felt good and I just kept going. We knew it would be close. I'm just happy we made it."
So was C.P. coach Keith Ididngs, whose Bulldogs were one point behind Munster last year. There was no such drama for Crown Point, which placed fourth (141). Tyler Gray finished ninth and Ryan Kepshire 16th.
"This semistate is so balanced with high competition, if you're not 'on' on this day, it's going to beat you," Iddings said. "We knew every point was extremely important. The kids ran a really smart race. They executed our strategy really well. They came through in a huge way."
Valparaiso was the top area team, finishing third (128) behind West Lafayette (89) and Warsaw (108). Ari Coulopoulos led the Vikings in sixth.
"We had a great start, which is the one thing we wanted to get ready for, for (state) because that hurt us last year," Vikings coach Mike Prow said. "We wanted to win. We want to every single one. People were passing us, but (state) is the only thing that matters. We'll take our chances that it will pay off big for us."
Lake Central also qualified, placing fifth with 161. Zach Hupp (15th) paced the Indians with Tyler Kramer-Stephens 20th.
"This is what we've been pointing at all year long and the kids ran a great race," coach Jeff Rhody said. "We've been back and forth with LaPorte all year, so it was whoever came to race today. I couldn't be more proud."
The joy of finishing second was erased by his team's disappointment for LaPorte's Anthony Didion, who was edged by Warsaw's Ellis Coon, 15:45.5-15:46.6.
"I was just trying to stay as far in the pack as I could but high enough where I was confident I could out-kick everyone," Didion said. "My goal was to have a smarter race. I'm glad how it worked out. I wouldn't want to lose to anybody but (Coon). He's a great guy."
Lowell's Brian Blaylock also qualified individually, crossing fifth in 15:57.6 after leading the race for the better part of 4 K.
"It was crazy. Awesome," Blaylock said. "At the end, everybody opened up. I wish I could re-do the last 1,000. I still had a good amount left. I don't know what happened. I really wanted to break 16 (minutes) and finish in the top three."
Hobart's Brent Dunn and Bishop Noll's Sal Cordova rounded out the local runners to advance. Mitch Wilborn of Chesterton missed the cutoff by 0.3 seconds.
Indiana high schools don't come much littler than LaCrosse, whose enrollment barely exceeds 100.
The tiny dot on the map gained notice last Saturday when Nate Rhodes became the first Tiger to qualify for semistate.
"It means a lot that I can put my name in the records for LaCrosse," Rhodes said. "Most of the people are from big schools. I'm from (one of) the smallest high school(s) in Indiana."
The new format, which advances the top 10 runners not on qualifying teams, opened the door for Rhodes, who made it to the New Prairie Regional all four years. A disappointing 42nd-place finish last fall was all the motivation he needed to seize the opportunity.
"Last year, I was thinking, 'Oh yeah, I can get out,' and I ended up running terrible," Rhodes said. "I had the determination, the mental side, being prepared, doing whatever it takes to get out."
As it turned out, Rhodes wasn't far off the old top 15 cutoff, taking 21st, seventh among individual qualifiers.
"If his time was where it should be, we knew he'd be right in that mix," coach Brian McMahan said. "He was really focused in."
The difference wasn't a better beginning or end. It was a stronger middle, the result of Rhodes' productivity in the offseason, when he gradually built mileage rather than pounding himself from the start of the summer.
"I put in so many miles, I had the extra endurance," he said. "When I hit the 3K, I'm able to throw in a surge. Ryan (Witt) helped me the last few weeks. Without (Bobby Claypool and Cody Mathis), I wouldn't be the runner I am. I look up to them for motivation, seeing the hard work they put in. People I don't even know walk up to me and say, 'Great job.' It compels me to want to do better."
For Rhodes, the semistate berth is the pinnacle of a career in which he's lead LaCrosse to three regionals. His freshman year, the Tigers could barely post a team score.
"We actually have kids to run the JV race at conference," Rhodes said. "People are fighting for varsity spots. We've got a lot of young kids on the team and I want them to strive to beat me."
McMahan built the program around his senior class and hopes the interest will carry over.
"From day one, Nate was trying to get other kids to join," he said. "Some saw what he did and wanted to join the ride. He'll be tough to replace, but I told our principal, cross country is one sport we can be competitive in, year in, year out, if we get them going at an early level. There's an eighth-grader coming in who idolizes Nate."
When Rhodes first began running, his superior talent was his primary incentive. It wasn't until eighth grade that he began to develop a passion for it.
"I realized, if I'm able to beat some (high school kids) now, what can happen if I just start training?" he said. "It just clicked. (Running is) something you're striving to better yourself at, not just to beat people."
The Porter County Conference mental attitude award winner, Rhodes hopes to realize a dream of running in college, where he plans to study criminal justice.
"I think running's a great foundation for the field," he said. "Determination, the will to succeed, to help others, it's the basis for it."
Today's New Prairie Semistate will provide him one more chance to make a name for himself and his school.
"Since the sectional, I knew any race could be my last," Rhodes said. "I need to be on top of my game. I just have to run my own race and make sure I leave everything out on the course."
When: 10:30 a.m. today.
Where: New Prairie High School.
Advancement: Top six teams and the top 10 individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the state finals Nov. 2 in Terre Haute.
Participating teams: (Boys) Chesterton, Crown Point, Frankfort, Hobart, Kokomo, Lafayette Jefferson, Lake Central, LaPorte, Lowell, McCutcheon, Munster, New Prairie, Portage, Rochester, Twin Lakes, Valparaiso, Warsaw, Western, West Lafayette, Winamac. (Girls) Chesterton, Clinton Central, Crown Point, Eastern (Greentown) Harrison (West Lafayette), Hebron, Hobart, Lake Central, LaPorte, Munster, New Prairie, Portage, Rochester, Seeger, Twin Lakes, Valparaiso, Warsaw, Western, West Lafayette, Winamac.
Favorites: West Lafayette boys and girls. Darkhorses: Valparaiso boys and Portage girls.
Defending champions: Valparaiso boys and West Lafayette girls.
Runners to watch: (Boys) Bishop Noll -- Sal Cordova; Chesterton -- Mitch Wilborn; Crown Point -- Tyler Gray, Ryan Kepshire, Jacob Langbehn; Hobart -- Brent Dunn, John Petroskey; Kankakee Valley -- Travis Conley; Lafayette Jefferson -- Cayce Griffin; Lake Central -- Tyler Kramer-Stephens, Zach Hupp, Casey Garvey; LaPorte -- Anthony Didion, Sam Miller, Braden Griffin; Lowell -- Brian Blaylock, Luke Rudzinski; Michigan City -- Gavin Gresham; Morgan Township -- Ben Savage; Munster -- Ryan Kritzer, Tommy Bolanowski. Theo Burgwald, Scott Farley; South Central -- Bryan Flannery; Valparaiso -- Ari Coulopoulos, Andrew Jankowski, Danny Dalton, Corey Alfredson, Kevin Hickey; West Lafayette -- Cooper Williams, Jake Cohen, Evan Johnson, Dominic Patascil; Wheeler -- Joel O'Shea.
(Girls) Chesterton -- Lindsey Nielsen; Crown Point -- Amber Wallace, Kristen Collins, Alexis Carpenter, Jill Zimmerman; Eastern -- Carly Jones, Avery Ewing; Hebron -- Payton Schatz; Hanover Central -- Lindsey Kolanowski; Hobart -- Celena Guerrero, Mindy Whidden, Marina Ahner; Lake Central -- Sarah Hunsley, Megan Zajac, Jade Tambir; LaPorte -- Elena Lancioni, Kailee Schoof, Alyssa Gerick; Lowell -- Sarah Weiser; Munster -- Brittany Barajas, Rebecca Karnezis; New Prairie -- Rachel Thompson, Kelsey Tyler; Northwestern -- Taryn Thor; Portage -- Kyra Ball, Paige Pizer, Rebecca Timm, Haley Orshonsky; Rochester -- Anna Bearss; South Central -- Kyleigh Werner; Twin Lakes -- Madeline Lilly; Valparaiso -- Alison Mundell; Michaela Gazdich; Warsaw -- Hannah Dawson; West Central -- Mickayla Wenzel; West Lafayette -- Lauren Johnson, Kristen Johnson, Rachel Bales, Delaney Barber; Wheeler -- Kelly O'Shea.
Fast facts: Boys race is first, and the girls race follows. Warsaw's Ellis Coon (fifth) is the top returning boys finisher, followed by Coulopoulos (sixth) and Didion (ninth). Lancioni (fourth) is the top returning girls finisher, followed by Lilly (fifth) and Bearss (sixth).
NEW CARLISLE | It was a measure of revenge that had been mostly unspoken leading up to Saturday morning.
After losing to LaPorte by one point in the Duneland Conference meet and again to the Slicers by one point at the sectional, the Portage girls cross country team ran away with a 20-point win at the New Prairie Regional. It was the Indians’ first regional title since 1988.
“We didn’t talk a lot about that; I mean, the two one-pointers (losses to LaPorte) are tough, but we just kind of focused on ourselves and made sure we were ready to go (Saturday),” Portage coach Jay White said. “We talked about not having won a regional since 1988, we probably talked about that more and there’s a lot of people – coaches, runners – who’ve been involved with the program that are a part of this, too.”
LaPorte senior Elena Lancioni won the individual title for the second year in a row, posting a time of 18:30.6, but Portage placed seven runners among the top 21 finishers to win the team title 45 to 65. LaPorte was denied its first-ever regional title.
Valparaiso (73), host New Prairie (86) and Chesterton (107) rounded out the top five teams which advance to next weekend’s semistate, which is also at New Prairie.
“I was just went out to try to make sure I can get a couple of fast races left,” Lancioni said. “I’ve only got two races left and those will be important races to run fast at so I didn’t want to run a slow race and not be ready for next weekend.”
Lancioni crossed the finish line exactly 40 seconds ahead of the second-place runner.
In the boys race, LaPorte senior Anthony Didion gave the Slicers a sweep of the individual titles, running away from Valparaiso senior Ari Coulopoulos to pick up a 4.2-second win.
“I knew (Coulopoulos) had it in him; once he took the lead at the one-mile mark, I was ready to respond,” Didion said. “From track season, I knew I had that extra gear. I just hadn’t had to use it in cross country yet. You know once you’re close, even if you’re dead the crowd is going to pull you through it.”
Didion led LaPorte to a second-place finish with 52 points. Valparaiso placed seven runners in the top 22 to win their fourth consecutive team title with 35 points.
Portage (114), Chesterton (119) and host New Prairie (125) rounded out the top five teams advancing to next weekend’s New Prairie semi-state race.
“It means that the guys care about tradition,” Valparaiso coach Mike Prow said of winning a fourth consecutive regional title in what was supposed to have been a down year for the Vikings. “It doesn’t matter who’s in there running, it’s about winning and that’s what we come here to do.
"The pace is going to be a little quicker next week. People aren’t going to just sit behind us, so next week we want to be ready to run a little bit faster at the start, establish ourselves and have the same kind of race we had (Saturday).”
CENTER TWP. | It was a crowded field at Saturday’s Crown Point Regional, but Munster junior Ryan Kritzer still emerged to take individual honors in the boys race on a sunny but crisp morning.
Kritzer finished in 16 minutes, 6 seconds and held off C.P.’s Tyler Gray by eight seconds, while Lowell’s Brian Blaylock was third in 16:21. Teammate Tom Bolanwoski took fourth in 16:25 to help propel the Mustangs to the team title.
“It’s always a nice confidence booster to have a teammate up there with you, knowing that he can help if it need be,” Kritzer said.
Kritzer said he made his move around the 2-mile mark on the 3.1-mile tree-lined course at Lemon Lake County Park.
“When it was time to go," he said, "I just went, held onto it and it ended up working out."
Munster coach Aaron Brown said it was a total team effort to dethrone host C.P. and come away with the team title for the first time in four years. The Mustangs edged the Bulldogs 49-52.
“All five of them did the job they were supposed to today and ran well, much better than they did at sectionals,” he said. “I was real happy with that.”
Lake Central was third with 72 points, followed by Lowell and Hobart. The top five teams and the top 10 individuals not on an advancing team qualified for next Saturday’s New Prairie Semistate.
Hobart’s Celena Guerrero cruised to the individual title in the girls race finishing in 19:18, while teammate Mindy Whidden was 13 seconds behind in second.
“It was perfect running conditions,” Guerrero said. “I knew it (would be) me and Mindy, and I was expecting a girl from Crown Point (Kayla McGurk) – but I don’t think she ran (Saturday) – and the two girls from L.C.
“I was kind of planning on just going out and try and attack, and at halfway into the race, seeing what I had left and try to break away.”
Guerrero also made her move with a mile left to secure the win.
“I was kind of planning on just going out and try and attack, and at halfway into the race, seeing what I had left and try to break away.”
Guerrero also made her move with a mile left to secure the win.
L.C.’s Sarah Hunsley placed third, and teammate Megan Zajac was fourth to help lead the well-oiled L.C. machine to its third straight title and ninth in the past 10 years.
“We all just stay together,” Hunsley said. “We all run together at practice, and we all push each other. We all know how to stay together during our races.”
L.C. coach Anny Downey breathed a sigh of relief when her charges won with 53 points, five points ahead of runner-up C.P. Jade Tazbir was seventh in scoring, Jennifer Crague15th and Joule Tazbir 24th.
“The kids came through,” Downey said. “They stepped it up. It’s about places; it’s not about your times. The kids had to be in certain spots, and they worked on getting in those spots.”
Hobart also scored 53, but C.P. got second on the sixth score tiebreaker. Munster and Hebron also advanced.
Downey admitted they caught a break when C.P.’s top runner McGurk couldn’t run due to an injury.
“If McGurk ran, than you’re not talking to me,” she said.
Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. Your time will come.
Andrew Jankowski heard all the encouraging phrases in the book during his prolonged efforts to crack Valparaiso's top seven.
"My sophomore year, I wanted it really bad," the Vikings senior said. "I handled it better last year. I was still very impatient, but I was more mature about it. I just bided my time."
And bided and bided and bided. After making the 12-man state roster as a freshman, Jankowski was on the outside of the bubble the last two years, watching as Valpo finished seventh in 2011 and third in 2012.
"He's been waiting for a long time," coach Mike Prow said. "He was a 16:30 guy, but it was a tough crowd to break into. He didn't really get a chance. He was calm about it. He never questioned anything."
With six seniors graduating from the state lineup, Jankowski knew this was his chance. He hit the ground running, placing at or near the top of the pack from the beginning.
"I knew I had a big role I needed to step up and fill," he said. "Coach has been reminding me since last season, especially the summer, almost every day. Everyone was expecting us to not be as good, but we all knew we were capable. We all put in the hard work. These guys have a lot of heart."
Jankowski wasn't about to let the opportunity slide. He hiked his summer training to as much as 70 miles a week, adding regular Sunday runs with classmate Corey Alfredson to his log.
"'AJ''s one of the real leaders on the team," Prow said. "I had him as a Kindergartener (at Thomas Jefferson Elementary) and have known him all the way through. It's really cool to have a guy like that, to see them grow up. He's very well-respected and looked up to. He's really worked hard and it's paying off."
While playing a variety of sports at a young age, Jankowski developed an affinity for running, a sport with deep family roots. His dad Paul, grandpa Chuck and great uncle Ken are all serious distance runners.
"I was always fast," he said.
The best runner in his class at TJ Middle School, Jankowski toiled in the shadow of classmate Ari Coulopoulos, the top runner at Ben Franklin. He continued to do so until this season, when his star, finally given its chance to shine, ascended.
"I'm excited about every race," said Jankowski, an academic all-state nominee with a 4.16 grade point average. "As long as I run how I'm supposed to, just keep getting gradually better, I'm fine. The times will speak for themselves. No one has to go out and try to be a hero."
A good mental outlook steered Jankowski through some periods of doubt. It continues to benefit him now as he manages back issues that have bothered him for three years.
"My back still hurts almost every day," he said. "I used to let it get to me, but I've learned how to run with it by staying positive. It's a thing I really emphasize. Once the negative thoughts come in, you're done."
There were moments in prior seasons when Jankowski wondered what it might've been like to be the No. 1 runner at many other schools. At no point did he ever doubt he was in the right place.
"It was always in the back of my mind," he said. "But Valpo has a really good tradition in cross country and great coaches. I'm a part of something special. I'm a lot better off here than anywhere else."
That point will be reinforced in two weeks when Jankowski sheds his warmups and steps to the starting line at the state meet for the first and only time.
"We want to go all the way, win state," he said. "It'll be tough. Carmel's an amazing team. But if we're all on, we'll have a chance to do great things."
MUNSTER | Aaron Brown's got a good thing going as the Munster boys cross country coach.
He has senior standout and No. 1 runner Tom Bolanowski for automatic points and look who's getting into the act now -- junior Ryan "Critter" Kritzer with the lime green spikes and high socks.
It's his trademark, and he's on a tear lately.
"Honestly, I knew (Kritzer) was chasing Tom Bolanowski but I didn't know he would get to quite this level – and he just keeps getting better each meet," Brown said.
"I probably would've expected times around 16:15 or 20 but he's gone a lot lower than that."
Kritzer's personal best is 15:52 at the Bob Thomas Invitational in Lowell. He recently won the Northwest Crossroads Conference (16:02) and Gavit Sectional (16:12) titles.
"He can hold a higher pace for a long time," Brown said. "He doesn't have a great sprint finish (but) he won the conference meet by running a sustained fast pace for the whole race.
"He's got the ability to put his name on the map next year. Truthfully, it might be already."
Munster missed qualifying for state by one point at the New Prairie Semistate last season and Bolanowski missed by one place. The Mustangs returned five of their top seven individuals and hope to challenge again.
Bolanowski, as any true teammate would do, has been a big brother to Kritzer despite being pushed by the underclassman.
"He's helped me tremendously from my freshman year to now," Kritzer said. "He's coached me on how to run, how to stay up with people. I knew there would be competition between me and him and it's been friendly competition.
"We've never gotten mad over who's No. 1 or who's No. 2. Tommy's a great guy, (very) well-rounded."
Kritzer is known for his sense of humor – 'Critter' comes from people butchering his name – and he gets some laughs at meets when spectators comment on his lime fashion statement.
"I've been wearing them every race. They're comfortable and they stand out," he said of the socks. "I get a bunch of remarks. They think it's funny."
Kritzer is sending a message as well.
"Overall, I don't think Munster has gotten enough recognition, though I'm probably a little biased," he said. "It's a 'statement' saying I'm a Munster runner and I'm up here (in the front) in all these meets.
"We should be getting recognition as a program."
Today's Crown Point Regional and the Oct. 26 New Prairie Semistate will determine how much.
New Prairie Regional
When: 10 a.m. (boys), 10:45 (girls) today.
Where: New Prairie High School.
Advancement: The top five teams and the top 10 individuals not on qualifying teams advance to the Oct. 26 New Prairie Semistate.
Participating schools: (Boys) Chesterton, Kankakee Valley, LaCrosse, LaPorte, Morgan Township, New Prairie, North Newton, Portage, Rensselaer, Valparaiso. (Girls) Chesterton, Kankakee Valley, LaPorte, New Prairie, North Judson, North Newton, Portage, Rensselaer, Valparaiso, West Central.
Favorites: LaPorte girls, Valparaiso boys.
Darkhorses: Portage girls, LaPorte boys.
Runners to watch: (Boys) Boone Grove -- Jon Hogg; Chesterton -- Kevin Kenney, Mitch Wilborn; Kankakee Valley -- Travis Conley, Bryce Gawronski; Kouts -- Mike Ferrell; LaCrosse -- Nate Rhodes; LaPorte -- Anthony Didion, Sam Miller, Braden Griffin; Michigan City -- Gavin Gresham; Morgan Township -- Ben Savage, Logan Redmon; New Prairie -- David Kampf; North Newton -- Leo Espino; Portage -- Nick Heimberg; South Central -- Bryan Flannery; Valparaiso -- Andrew Jankowski, Ari Coulopoulos, Kevin Hickey, Daniel Dalton, Corey Alfredson; Wheeler -- Joel O'Shea. (Girls) Chesterton -- Lindsey Nielsen; Kankakee Valley -- Alison Rockley, Kaylin Orsburn; LaPorte -- Elena Lancioni, Kailee Schoof, Kristin Cave; Morgan Township -- Hailey Haveck; New Prairie -- Rachel Thompson, Kelsey Tyler, Hope Myroup; Portage -- Kyra Ball, Paige Pizer, Rebecca Timm; Rensselaer -- Riley Hickman; South Central -- Kyleigh Werner; Valparaiso -- Alison Mundell, Michaela Gazdich, Aurora Bonner; West Central -- Micayla Wenzel; Wheeler -- Kelly O'Shea.
Fast facts: Valparaiso is the defending boys champion and has won three titles in a row. Coulopoulos (third) is the highest returning boys runner. The top five girls finishers return, led by Lancioni. Chesterton is defending girls champion. LaPorte has never won a girls regional.
Crown Point Regional
When: 11 a.m. today (boys), 11:30 (girls)
Where: Lemon Lake County Park.
Advancement: The top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams and the first five qualifying teams from each regional shall advance to the New Prairie Semistate Oct. 26.
Participating schools: Andrean (girls), Bishop Noll (boys), Calumet (boys), Crown Point (boys and girls), E.C. Central (girls), Griffith (girls), Hanover Central (girls), Hebron (boys and girls), Highland (boys and girls), Hobart (boys and girls), Lake Central (boys and girls), Lowell (boys), Merrillville (boys), Munster (boys and girls),
Favorites: Crown Point boys, Lake Central girls.
Darkhorses: Munster boys, Crown Point girls.
Runners to watch: (Boys) Bishop Noll -- Sal Cordova; Calumet -- Andrew Huff; Crown Point -- Tyler Gray, Ryan Kepshire, Jacob Langbehn, Matthew Mosak; Gavit -- Zach Schreiber; Hebron -- Scott Crawley, Erik Brebner; Highland -- Michael Kristy, Dylan Liniewicz; Hobart -- Brent Dunn, John Petroskey, Collin Allen, Alek Seeley; Lake Central -- Zach Hupp, Tyler Kramer-Stephens, Casey Garvey, Kameron Konopasek; Lowell -- Brian Blaylock, Ethan Huseman; Merrillville -- Conor Hill; Munster -- Ryan Kritzer, Tom Bolanowski, Scott Farley, Jimmy Murphy. (Girls) Andrean -- Kellyn Vale; Crown Point -- Kayla McGurk, Jill Zimmerman, Lyndie Pierce; Hanover Central -- Lindsey Kolanowski, Olivia Umlauf; Hebron -- Payton Schatz, Abigail Getautas, Sarah Benjamin; Highland -- Reilly Panozzo, Clarissa Magley; Hobart -- Celena Guerrero, Mindy Whidden, Marina Ahner; Lake Central -- Sarah Hunsley, Megan Zajac, Jade Tazbir, Sydney Vandersteeg, Jennifer Crague; Lowell -- Sarah Wieser; Merrillville -- Tamera Julkes; Munster -- Emily McNicholas, Rebecca Karnezis, Mallory Grim; Whiting -- Citlali Lopez.
Fast facts: Crown Point’s boys are the defending champs. Lake Central’s girls have won the last two, eight of the last nine and 13 overall regional titles.
-- compiled by Jim Peters and Paul Trembacki
LIBERTY TWP. | Valparaiso's boys won the Chesterton Sectional for the fourth year in a row Tuesday.
For Vikings senior Andrew Jankowski, the others didn't compare to this one.
"The last three years, I've been right on the edge of the top seven," Jankowski said. "I've been waiting for my chance to prove myself and I finally did. It feels great to carry on the streak, to keep the Valpo legacy going."
Jankowski, one of four seniors who had not run in a sectional before, crossed third on the slippery Sunset Hill Farm course to lead five Vikings in the top 10. Valpo scored 32 points, 40 ahead of runner-up LaPorte.
"I wanted it so bad for those guys," Valpo coach Mike Prow said. "They've been disrespected across the state, not necessarily around here. It's a bunch of no names, besides Ari (Coulopoulos), and they've come in and done everything we've asked.
"I'm really happy for 'AJ.' He's been in the shadows so long and he's had a breakout year. They packed up beautifully."
In a replay of the Duneland Athletic Conference girls race, LaPorte nipped Portage by a point, 59-60, claiming its first sectional title since 1998. Valpo, which had won the last three sectionals, was third at 69.
"Unbelievable," Slicers coach John Dearing said. "We knew it would be tight. We've been on the right side so far. Portage goes out fast and runs strong as a pack. It's intimidating.
"We keep trying to get our fourth and fifth to stay in the pack with them. This is pretty special for the girls. They're making history here."
Portage put seven in the top 21, but couldn't quite overcome the 1-3 finish of Elena Lancioni and Kailee Schoof -- again.
"We're right there, so close," Indians coach Jay White said. "I don't think we ran great and we were still one point off. I felt good about (conference). I don't feel as good about this one. We'll recharge for a couple days and get back after it in the regional."
Lancioni repeated as champion, making it around in 18:44, 13 seconds in front of New Prairie's Rachel Thompson.
"I had to slow down a lot around the corners and going down the hill," she said. "I knew I wasn't going to run a spectacular time, but it was just good to get a race in after having a week off. I was anxious to run again. (The rain) makes it a fun cross country meet."
Fellow Slicer Anthony Didion, the runner-up last year, topped the boys field in 16:02, 19 ticks faster than New Prairie's David Kampf.
"I literally walked around the turn," Didion said. "I knew it wasn't going to be a fast day, but everybody had to deal with it. I was just going to go with (the leaders) for a mile and then see what the race would give from there.
"I've won so many races, I'm happier to see how far the team has come, from fifth last year to second. None of them have been to the state meet and I just want to get them there."
Michigan City's boys took advantage of the new individual qualifying format. The Wolves finished sixth, but had six runners advance as part of the top 10 that didn't make it to the New Prairie Regional as a team.
South Central's Kyleigh Werner and Wheeler's Joel O'Shea topped those lists, placing sixth and eighth, respectively.
HAMMOND | Squirrels darted in the background, geese honked in the distance and dogs scratched and sniffed along the course.
Then an animal won the girls race at the Gavit Sectional Tuesday at Riverside Park.
Undefeated in sixth, seventh and eighth grade at Kahler Middle School, Lake Central freshman phenom Sarah Hunsley, described by her coach as “an animal,” took a few races to acclimate herself to competition at the varsity level and in the Duneland Athletic Conference.
Now that it’s the postseason, Hunsley is ready for new courses and new accomplishments, such as her individual championship, which contributed to her team’s 10th consecutive and 20th overall championship, Tuesday.
Hunsley pushed through rain to win in 19:52.
“Going against all of these kids that are so much older than me, it’s like overwhelming, but once you know what you’re doing and how you are with your team, it’s easier to break the nerves,” Hunsley said.
“I’m very proud of my team, and our goal is to get to state because we didn’t go last year. We’re mentally tough enough to go to state.”
The first L.C. freshman to win the sectional since Megan Plenus in 2006, Hunsley credited runner-up and team leader Megan Zajac for pushing her throughout the season in practice and in Tuesday’s race, though Zajac was 22 seconds back in second.
The Indians had seven of the top 10 runners, including Jade Tazbir (third) and Sydney Vandersteeg (fourth), to dominate the meet.
“They did a great job,” L.C. coach Ann Downey said. "We ran as a team. They practiced hard. The kids are definitely a tight group of girls. Everyone is pulling for each other. They had a job to do, and they all went out and did their job.”
Lake Central almost swept the sectional in both genders, but Munster’s boys, led by a 1-2 finish, held off the Indians 30-33 for the ninth sectional title in school history and second in a row.
“It doesn’t matter what the two teams are like coming in, they’ll always give you a good challenge,” Munster coach Aaron Brown said. “L.C. took the bull by the horns -- or the Mustangs by the reins, I guess we could say -- and controlled that whole race.
"If we run the same race and Lake Central runs the same race on Saturday, we won’t beat them.”
Ryan Kritzer, last year’s runner-up, beat teammate Tom Bolanowski, last year’s champ, for the individual title, coming home in 16:12. Mustangs Scott Farley, Jimmy Murphy and Theo Burgwald were eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively, ahead of a trio of Indians who were 12th through 14th.
Kritzer passed race leader Sal Cordova of Bishop Noll near the 2,000-meter mark.
“I’ve been feeling really good this whole year and haven’t had any setbacks,” Kritzer said. “I’ve just been able to keep working hard all season, and now it’s paying off in the postseason.”
Lake Central’s Zach Hupp came in ahead of Cordova for third and was joined by fellow super-sophomores Tyler Kramer-Stephens, Casey Garvey and Kameron Konopasek.
RENSSELAER | After Morgan Township’s Ben Savage toured the wet and windy course in 16 minutes and 29 seconds at Tuesday’s Rensselaer Sectional to win the boys title, he received well wishes from fans and foes alike.
“Nice run, Ben,” and “Way to go, Ben,” were relayed by many.
Kankakee Valley’s Travis Conley, who finished just 3 seconds behind, is also an admirer.
“I’ve known him since my freshman year,” said Conley, a senior. “We’re really good friends, and we’ve trained together before.”
Savage wasn’t bothered by the adverse conditions.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I liked it a lot and was looking forward to it. The first couple miles was a little slow.”
Conley said they were able to pick up the pace for the final mile.
“I started sticking with him as much I could,” he said.
The top five teams and the top 10 individuals not on an advancing team advanced to Saturday’s New Prairie Semistate.
Conley’s teammates finished in fourth, eighth, ninth and 12th pace to give the Kougars the team title with 35 points, topping LaCrosse’s 77. Morgan was third with 78 points.
“It was a good win,” K.V. coach Tim Adams said. “At least in my era, that eclipses our best mark in terms of scoring, team average time, and probably all around performance.”
North Newton and Rensselaer also advanced.
K.V.’s Allison Rockley finished third to pace the Kougars, who put their top five runners among the top 15.
“The weather wasn’t good, but I stuck to it,” she said.
Rensselaer sophomore Riley Hickman was runner-up to West Central’s Mickayla Wenzel (19:22) for individual honors.
“I was just trying to keep my eyes on her,” said Hickman, who finished in 20:17.
The K.V. girls won their second straight title and fourth since 2008, finishing with 44 points. West Central was second with 59 and Rensselaer was third with 66. North Newton placed fifth to advance.
“I’m very happy with it,” K.V. coach Lane Lewallen said. “You assume nothing. West Central and Rensselaer ran great. They should be extremely proud of their girls.
“I’m proud of mine, putting all the top five scorers in the top 15 is strong in this weather, and I’m pleased with our performance.”
CENTER TWP. | Brian Blaylock had an advantage on a wet and rainy day at the Crown Point sectional Tuesday at Lemon Lake Park.
"It's fun (to run in the rain)," the Lowell runner said. "Nobody likes to race in the rain, so it's such an advantage if you like to and I don't mind it."
Blaylock finished first, individually, with a time of 16:16. His goal was to run under 16:15, but he was happy with his finish considering sloppy, course conditions.
Host Crown Point won both the boys and girls team trophies.
The Bulldogs had five runners finish in the top eight boys. The girls squad had five in the top 10 to win Crown Point's eighth consecutive sectional championship.
C.P.'s Tyler Gray was neck and neck with Blaylock until the winner made his move at about the two-mile mark. It was a little earlier than Blaylock planned and Gray expected.
"It kind of threw me off a little bit, but it was great on his part," Gray said. "It was a good race and Saturday (in the regional) should be even better."
Hobart's Celena Guerrero defended her individual title on the girls side. She posted a winning time of 19:30 despite what is either a stress fracture or "really bad tendonitis," she said.
Guerrero runs in meets, but hasn't practiced in three weeks. She rides the eliptical "aqua-jogs" in the pool, instead.
"I tried running earlier this week but I stopped because it hurt. And I've been taking anti-inflammatories and it's gotten better," Guerrero said. "It wasn't excruciating (during the race), so hopefully it's just tendonitis."
Guerrero's teammate Mindy Whidden finished second, 25 seconds later.
"We knew Kayla (McGurk) would probably be our biggest competition and she was from C.P.," Guerrero said. "So, we really wanted to try to sneak in there and finish 1, 2."
The other girls team advancing were Hobart, Hebron, Andrean and Hanover Central. On the boys side, Hobart, Lowell, Hebron and Merrillville will move on.
Blaylock had the only official time in the boys race. The timing mechanism got wet and failed to record times. A backup stop watch hadn't had its memory cleared before the race. The order of finish was accurate.
(Previous ranking in parentheses; NR = not ranked)
Girls Cross Country
1. LaPorte (1)
2. Portage (3)
3. Lake Central (2)
4. Valparaiso (4)
5. Crown Point (5)
6. Hobart (7)
7. Hebron (8)
8. Chesterton (6)
9. Munster (10)
10. Kankakee Valley (NR)
Boys Cross Country
1. Valparaiso (1)
2. Crown Point (2)
3. Munster (3)
4. Lake Central (5)
5. LaPorte (4)
6. Portage (6)
7. Hebron (8)
8. Lowell (9)
9. Hobart (7)
10. Kankakee Valley (10)
When Bryan Flannery was younger, he used to run laps around the track at Portage with his brother Jim, a former Indians runner whose teams reached the state cross country finals in 2003 and 2004.
At least that's what his parents tell him.
"I don't remember," Bryan said. "I went to all of his meets when I was little, getting up early in the morning."
A few years later, the Flannerys moved to Union Mills. Bryan took up running in sixth grade at South Central, though his passion for the sport wasn't immediate.
"The first year, he told me he didn't really like doing it, but you never would've known," said Satellites coach Rachel Werner, who also coached Flannery in junior high. "He was a decent runner, but not a standout. He learned to love it. He decided he wanted it more and he really started putting in the workouts. He's got a very supportive family, which is awesome to watch."
Flannery's interest began to grow last spring during track.
"I needed something to do, something to push myself," he said.
Running on his brother's old oval, the freshman finished fifth in the 3,200 meters at the Portage Sectional, one place out of a regional berth, behind three seniors and another frosh, Wheeler's Joel O'Shea. His hip problems abated, Flannery showed marked improvement from cross country, where he placed 46th in the Chesterton Sectional.
"It made me realize I could actually do well, go far in the tournament," he said. "I wanted to do better. It made me work harder. I did a lot more training than last year."
Over the summer, Flannery put in between 55 and 60 miles a week, and he's been earning dividends on his investment since. On Tuesday, he took third in the Porter County Conference Championship -- up from 14th as a freshman -- to head into Tuesday's sectional with a jolt of confidence.
"He has a good chance to get out," Werner said. "Even with the old (format), he had a chance. He's pretty serious about what he's doing. He's running in the winter, lifting weights, doing everything he can. He's got the (physical) core. He can go, go, go and kick at the end. He knows not to go crazy at the beginning, to pace himself, when to surge, when not to surge."
For Flannery, like most runners, the physical side of running is just half the battle. Ranked third in his class with a 4.2 grade point average, he understands a strong mind is just as important as strong legs.
"It's really a mental sport," he said. "You push yourself to run the best you can, try to ignore your body, the pain you feel, and push through it. I always used to go out real fast and the third mile, I was just dead. I've learned control. If I need to start out fast, I can do it. If I need to surge at the end, I can do that. If I need to stay consistent, I can do that. It's not where you start that matters. It's where you finish."
While Kyleigh Werner has become the face of S.C.'s girls program, Flannery hopes his success can spur interest in the boys ranks. This season's roster of 13 is coach Werner's largest.
"My focus is on getting out of sectionals. The end goal is to get to state," Flannery said. "I just want to have more guys realize that we can be good, we can do something. You can run well if you set your mind to it. It's hard to run by yourself. It's more fun to run with other people."
When: 4:30 p.m. (boys), 5:15 (girls) Tuesday.
Where: Sunset Hill Farm County Park.
Advancement: The top 10 individuals from non‐advancing teams and the first five qualifying teams advance to the New Prairie Regional.
Participating schools: Boone Grove, Chesterton, Lake Station, LaPorte, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, South Central, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler.
Favorites: LaPorte girls, Valparaiso boys.
Darkhorses: Portage girls, LaPorte boys.
Runners to watch: (Girls) Boone Grove -- Sarah Steinhilber, Mariah Rodriguez; Chesterton -- Lindsey Nielsen, Haley Cushway; LaPorte -- Elena Lancioni, Kailee Schoof; New Prairie -- Rachel Thompson, Kelsey Tyler; Portage -- Kyra Ball, Rebecca Timm, Haley Orshonsky; South Central -- Kyleigh Werner; Valparaiso -- Michaela Gazdich, Alison Mundell; Washington Township -- Liz Masson; Westville -- Molly Corder; Wheeler -- Kelly O'Shea.
(Boys) Boone Grove -- Jon Hogg; Chesterton -- Mitch Wilborn; LaPorte -- Anthony Didion, Sam Miller; Portage -- Lucas Sullivan; South Central -- Bryan Flannery; Valparaiso -- Ari Coulopoulos, Andrew Jankowski, Corey Alfredson, Kevin Hickey, Danny Dalton; Wheeler -- Joel O'Shea, Alex Nader.
Fast facts: Valparaiso is the defending champion in both races. Lancioni is the returning girls champ, while Didion was second last year.
Crown Point Sectional
When: 4:30 p.m. (boys); 5:15 (girls) Tuesday .
Where: Lemon Lake County Park.
Advancement: The top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams and the first five qualifying teams from each sectional shall advance to designated regionals.
Participating schools: Andrean, Bowman Academy, Crown Point, Gary Lighthouse, Gary 21st Century, Hanover Central, Hebron, Hobart, Lew Wallace, Lowell, Merrillville, River Forest, Roosevelt.
Favorites: Crown Point boys, Hobart girls.
Darkhorses: Lowell boys, Crown Point girls.
Runners to watch: (Boys) Andrean -- Christian Germonprez, Danny Kukla; Crown Point -- Tyler Gray, Ryan Kepshire, Jake Langbehn; Hanover Central -- Mike York, Nick Zak; Hebron -- Ryan Witt, Joe Crawley, Joe MacNeill; Hobart -- Brent Dunn, Alek Seeley, John Petroskey; Lowell -- Brian Blaylock, Luke Rudzinski, Matt Wilson; Merrillville -- Miguel Tapia; River Forest -- Christopher Ramos.
(Girls) Andrean -- Kellyn Vale, Kaycee Crist; Crown Point -- Kayla McGurk, Lexie Carpenter, Lyndie Pierce; Hanover Central -- Lindsey Kolanowski, Olivia Umlauf; Hebron -- Payton Schatz, Sarah Benjamin, Abby Getautas; Hobart -- Celena Guerrero, Mindy Whidden, Marina Ahner; Lowell -- Sarah Wieser, Rachel Megquier, Hailey Bushore; Merrillville -- Anna Feliciano, Tamera Julkes; River Forest -- Caridad Ramos.
Fast facts: The Crown Point boys have won this sectional 11 times since the turn of the century, while the Crown Point girls come in on a seven-year in streak. Hobart's Guerrero is the defending champion for the girls.
When: 4:30 p.m. (boys); 5:15 (girls) Tuesday.
Where: Riverside Park, Hammond.
Advancement: The top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams and the first five qualifying teams from each sectional shall advance to designated regionals.
Participating schools: Bishop Noll, Calumet, Clark, E.C. Central, Gavit, Griffith, Hammond, Highland, Lake Central, Morton, Munster, West Side, Whiting.
Favorites: Munster boys, Lake Central girls.
Darkhorses: Lake Central boys, Munster girls.
Runners to watch: (Boys) Bishop Noll -- Sal Cordova, Justin Figueroa; Calumet -- Andrew Huff, Lamberto Garcia; Clark -- Arturo Ruiz, Alexis Figueroa; E.C. Central – Alex Figueroa; Gavit -- Zach Schreiber, Vincente Valdez; Hammond -- E’Monta Coleman; Highland -- Kyle Pfister; Lake Central -- Zach Hupp, Tyler Kramer-Stevens, Casey Garvey; Morton -- Manuel Lara, Isaiah Walker; Munster -- Ryan Kritzer, Tom Bolanowski, Emmanuel Lopez, Scott Farley; Whiting -- Austin Loehman.
(Girls) Calumet -- Ashley Redd; E.C. Central -- Abigail Pineda, Dominique Findley; Gavit -- Alexandria James, Aulanah Bigham; Griffith -- Brittany Burbridge; Highland -- Clarissa Magley, Reilly Panozzo; Lake Central -- Sarah Hunsley, Megan Zajac, Jade Tazbir, Sydney Vandersteeg; Morton -- Luna Mireles, Celeste Rosillo, Leslie Esquivel; Munster -- Emily McNicholas, Rebecca Karnezis, Brittany Barajas, Mallory Grim; Whiting -- Citali Lopez.
Fast facts: Defending boys champ Munster, which took last year's title by a point over Lake Central, has won four sectionals in the last eight years; in that span Lake Central has the other four. Bolanowski is the defending individual champ. The L.C. girls are nine-time defending champs.
When: 4:30 p.m. (boys), 5:15 (girls) Tuesday.
Advancement: The top 10 individuals from non‐advancing teams and the first five qualifying teams advance to the New Prairie Regional.
Participating schools: Kankakee Valley, Knox, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, North Judson, North Newton, Oregon-Davis, Rensselaer, South Newton, West Central.
Favorites: Kankakee Valley girls, Morgan Township boys.
Darkhorses: Rensselaer girls, Kankakee Valley boys.
Runners to watch: (Girls) Kankakee Valley -- Kaylin Orsburn, Allson Rockley, Brittany Kent; Kouts -- Kylie Kuebler; Morgan Township -- Hailey Haveck; North Newton -- Alyce Kessler, Kaila Moskalick; Rensselaer -- Riley Hickman; West Central -- Mickayla Wenzel.
(Boys) Kankakee Valley -- Travis Conley, Bryce Gawronski; Kouts -- Mike Ferrell, Kouts; LaCrosse -- Nate Rhodes, Ryan Witt; Morgan Township -- Ben Savage, Logan Redmon, North Newton -- Leo Espino.
Fast facts: Kankakee Valley girls are Morgan Township boys won last year. Savage finished second.
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