TERRE HAUTE | When you think of Lowell, the first sport that comes to mind is probably football.
Thanks to Kyle Eller, that could be changing. The Red Devils senior finished fifth in the boys state cross country finals Saturday, an effort he hopes will help shine the light on the sport in the south Lake County community known more, at least up to now, for its running backs than its runners.
"This shows people who are big football fans that Lowell cross country's good, too," Eller said. "I don't think anybody's ever heard of it before (this year). It's great for the school, too."
Eller led all region runners and qualifiers from the New Prairie Semistate with a time of 15:35.2, about 14 seconds off of state champion Connor Sorrells of Barr-Reeve.
"First, I give God all the glory," Eller said. "Honestly, I don't think I have the talent myself. I'm thankful I have a wonderful coach and a team there to support me. I wanted to win, but fifth place is great, compared to last year. It was tough. I'd try to draft off people. Around (2 kilometers), I was picking it up. I was really tired, but I was able to push through."
For Lowell coach Jake Rakoczy, Eller's performance not only sets the bar, but shows that it can be done at the school.
"To have a kid like that on the team -- we've been fortunate to have a few over the years -- it's different to actually practice with them, talk to them, go home with them," Rakoczy said of Eller. "You think maybe one day you can almost be as good as him. It makes the impossible seem possible. He was excited to break 17 (minutes) as a sophomore. You look a couple years later, the program's improved as he has. We weren't here without him. He affected other runners. Brian Blaylock (62nd) had a nice race, too."
Repeat performance, almost: Morgan Township's Alec Kostelnik earned his second state medal, finishing 11th in 15:42.5, one spot off of his 2011 showing.
"I wanted a medal, at least," he said. "It's not really what I exactly wanted place-wise, but I ran absolutely as hard as I could. That's all you can really do. There's a self-satisfaction in (that). I'm grateful to be here, to run with the top guys like that."
Kostelnik was eighth with about a mile to go, but knew he had a group nipping at his heels.
"I really had to hammer it," he said. "I didn't have enough for a surge. I was just hanging on. No matter how you run the race, the last 400, it always kills you."
Striking a balance: Rakoczy didn't want his Red Devils runners to look at the race as icing on the cake, but he also didn't want to detract from the occasion.
"Leading up to the week, it wasn't about adding any unnecessary pressure," Rakoczy said. "It was the first trip, I wanted it to be fun, exciting, let them go back to the hotel room, play the video games, eat the big breakfast."
Hobart's Brent Dunn said the Brickies were more much serious about the race this time around.
"People were playing Nintendo 'til 2 in the morning last year," he said. "They wanted to do well this year."
Given his off-season and in-season injuries, Dunn was content if not satisfied with his 63rd-place finish.
"I knew we weren't going to win, so I just wanted to lay it on the line the whole race," he said. "My beginning wasn't the best and I pretty much slowed down up the hills. I was tired. I wanted to do a lot better, but my time (16:23.6 ) was all right for the season I had."
Fast frosh: Wheeler's Joel O'Shea (69th, 16:28.4) was the third-fastest freshman in the field, behind only Ben Veatch (27th) of state champion Carmel and West Lafayette's Cooper Williams (52nd).
"Before (coach Louie Guillen) told me that, I was kind of disappointed with how I ran," O'Shea said. "I felt I could've run a lot faster. I just went in there trying to think of it like any other race."
Austin island: Due to low numbers and injuries, Griffith's Taylor Austin ran a good part of the regular season and all of the post-season without a full team, so she became accustomed to racing for herself.
"It's tough," she said. "I'd just pick out girls from other teams to be by, look for different 'teammates.'"