HIGHLAND | The course for the 46th annual Highland Invitational, as usual, finished on the high school track, familiar terrain for first-year cross country runner Isabella Pradhan of Andrean.
“I’m a sprinter at heart, and the track is where I know how to finish,” Pradhan said. “I’m really happy I joined cross country, and I just want to keep striving to do my best and improve.”
Pradhan, who never raced for more than a mile before taking up cross country this summer, picked off two runners on the race’s final leg, on the track, and took eighth overall, sixth among runners from complete teams, in the 20-team race.
With Pradhan’s teammates Kellyn Vale (fourth) and Kaycee Crist (10th) also in the front pack, the 59ers were able to win the Highland Invitational Saturday morning, outpointing Perry Meridian 49-78 for the title.
“I was really nervous for this race, and I don’t think I would’ve done well without the team,” Pradhan said. “Passing my teammates wasn’t a goal; just staying with them was. These girls have motivated me to do so much more than I thought I could.”
Lafayette Jeff beat two-time defending champion Lowell for the boys team title.
“We had two in the top 10 and two more in the top 20,” Lowell boys coach Jake Rakoczy said. “I’m not upset with anything, just a little disappointed we couldn’t defend our titles. Sometimes it helps to get your butts whooped at the right time. I hope this helps us gain some perspective.”
The individual finishes in both the boys races and girls races were parallel for the top three.
Perry Meridian had the winners (Isaiah White and Kieran Casey), Lowell had the runners-up (Brian Blaylock and Sarah Wieser), and Wheeler had the third-place finishers (Joel O’Shea and sister Kelly O’Shea).
The O’Shea siblings both returned from injuries in the last two weeks. Joel’s first race was the Bob Thomas Invite at Lowell on Sept. 14, and Kelly made her season debut at the New Prairie Invitational last Saturday. Joel was limited by a shin injury, and Kelly had a stress fracture in her lower left leg, the same injury that forced her to miss indoor track season this past spring.
“It’s hard because this is my second time being injured,” Kelly O’Shea said. “When you’re injured you have to do so many things other than run. Once you get back to running, you just have to run hard.”
Wheeler coach Louie Guillen said Joel O’Shea is totally healthy now but just needs to get into race shape. The fact that he hung with Blaylock for most of Saturday’s race was a positive omen.
“We’re just trying to be patient with everybody, and it gets frustrating at times for them,” Guillen said. “They have to understand maybe they’ll have the fresher legs. It’ll come together. They’ve just got to have faith.”
Blaylock, who took second in a Saturday invite for the third time this season, finished in 15:54, 17 seconds behind White, after a slow start.
“I had to make a big move in the beginning just to get out of the pack,” Blaylock said. “I had to go outside and speed up. After a mile I picked up the pace. I went sub-16 again, and it proves to myself that I can do it again and again and hope to keep getting better.”
Wieser, who took 15th last year at the same meet, was short of her desired time, as the temperature rose steadily in the hour-plus between the start of the varsity boys race and varsity girls race.
“I started slowly, and I wasn’t killing myself,” Wieser said. “At the second mile the wind was at my back and I started passing people.”