If not for cross country, Taylor Bisacchi probably wouldn't have chosen a good path.
"I would've been hanging around a lot of different friends, non-athletes, people who skip class and do inappropriate things," the Valparaiso senior said. "Cross country's given me a lot. It's like having a second good family. Everybody's looking out for each other. It's kept me away from doing things I'd regret and helped me figure out what to do with my life."
Bisacchi doesn't have a storybook tale of the nuclear family in suburbia. He attended North Newton into eighth grade, when he moved to Valpo with his mom, Cara. It wasn't easy, but the social transition wasn't nearly as difficult for the personable Bisacchi as the adjustment to the higher academic and athletic standards.
"Right away at (Thomas Jefferson) in eighth grade, they said he had as much talent as anybody who came through there," Vikings coach Mike Prow said. "As a freshman, he ran 16:42, obviously a fantastic time. He just had a lot of little battles, academics, authority. He wasn't committed to really anything."
Before he came to Valpo, all Bisacchi did was run. He didn't do or even know about all the body maintenance that plays such a big part.
"It was different than what I was used to," he said. "I never stretched before. I didn't ice. It was a lot harder training. I messed around too much. I was really out of shape. Everybody practiced harder than I did as a freshman. I wasn't focused a lot on school. I had to study a lot more, make sure I got good grades. I just wasn't mentally ready."
As challenges go, Bisacchi ranked pretty high on Prow's list, but ultimately the coaches' and teammates' efforts broke through.
"As much as we battled from time to time, coach (Aaron) Crague and I never considered giving up on the kid," Prow said. "He was beaten by most of the guys in the top 12 in one race or another. He finally realized as a junior and senior what we were all telling him from the start, that it's not just all about natural talent. He started believing it, and combined with the work he's putting in, it paid off."
As a junior, Bisacchi was part of the Vikings' top seven. He was their fourth finisher at state, where he took 82nd.
"Always trust the coaches," Bisacchi said. "Eating right, getting the right sleep, icing, you put those all together, it's really a good way to help your performance."
This season, he's been consistently in Valpo's top three and won the Duneland Athletic Conference meet.
"He's so competitive," Prow said. "He finally started getting some confidence, stringing a lot of days of running with the group of guys he should be running with. The last three, four weeks, he's been so much more serious, committed. The calls from college coaches are also inspiring him a lot."
Bisacchi wouldn't have given college a thought two years ago. Now he's excited about the prospect of running at the next level. He can enhance his chances with a strong showing in Terre Haute a week from today.
"Peyton (Reed)'s been pushing really hard and lately I haven't been able to keep up," Bisacchi said. "(Semistate)'s an opportunity to see if I can run on the level he's on. At this point in the season, there's no slacking off. We're not peaking yet. We're right where we need to be, and we know the coaches will have us ready to bring our 'A' game to state."