HAMMOND | Mention "Griffith," and football immediately comes to mind. Taylor Austin is working like the dickens to change that.
She'd like some love for girls cross country.
"Everyone is like: 'Oh, it's Griffith. They're not good. The school's so small,'" the junior said.
The two-sport standout became the Panthers' first individual sectional 5K champion Tuesday, leading her team to a third-place finish at the Gavit Sectional.
Austin overcame season-long hip problems to cover the Dowling Park course in 19 minutes, 26 seconds and win easily over Shelby Carroll (19:40) of team champion Lake Central.
The Indians went 2-3-4-6-9.
The top five teams and top 15 runners advance to Saturday's Crown Point Regional at Lemon Lake County Park.
"We practice a lot on sticking together, and when it gets tough out there, we push through it," said Austin, whose teammates Brittany Burbridge and Samantha Aguilar finished 14th and 15th, respectively.
"I knew it would be between me and Shelby. I wanted it so bad. The pain wasn't bad today. I see a chiropractor three times a week, and I just keep running, telling myself I can do it."
Carroll — one of two seniors on Lake Central's 12-member squad — was joined by teammates Tatiana Lazic, Megan Zajac, Tara Zlotkowski and Amanda Onest.
"I thought it was a fast course, and (Austin) was definitely pushing for time," Carroll said. "I love it when runners get better and push everybody, and she's gotten better from last year."
The boys race went as expected with Lake Central winning its 18th sectional under coach Rudy Skorupa, now in his 38th season, and Highland's Jacob Baranowski showing his heels to the field in 16:42.
Sophomore Tom Bolanowski of runner-up Munster was second in 16:48, and both credited the strong Northwest Crossroads Conference for helping prepare them for the postseason.
"Our conference is deep this year. That's pretty cool because it's helped everyone out," Baranowski said. "I successfully defended my sectional and conference titles, but the way everybody is stepping up, I think there are a lot of people now with targets on their back."
Bolanowski said: "Everybody has all-around good teams, and the rivalries get you going. I wanted to stay with (Baranowski). But he got a lead in the middle of the race that I couldn't overcome."
The Lake Central boys placed 5-6-7-9-12, and Skorupa applauded them for carrying out his game plan.
"They really came through," he said. "We knew Munster had those two guys (Bolanowski and Tony Rigoni) who are up front all the time, and we wanted to get our five kids right behind them and in the top 12.
"We knew it would be a dual meet between us and Munster."