LOWELL | Surprises dotted the team and individual results for Saturday’s Northwest Crossroads Conference Championship meets, but there was no doubt about the individual champs.
Griffith’s Taylor Austin won an unprecedented fourth consecutive individual conference title in the girls race, and Lowell’s Kyle Eller set a course record while winning his first NCC title.
“With this being my senior year, I was really motivated for it,” Austin said. “It’s my last high school cross country season, so before meets I realize it’s my last time running this course or that course. I’m really happy I did get a fourth in a row.”
Austin is bent on getting closer and closer to finishing in 18 minutes flat. On Saturday she crossed the finish line in 18:57, 20 seconds ahead of runner-up Mindy Whidden of Hobart.
Of all of her NCC titles, it was by far her most dominant. Rival Becca Conley of Andrean, the individual favorite last year, was fifth.
Eller noticed a distinct lack of acorns on the course during his final home race and came home in 15:41 to top Munster’s Tom Bolanowski (16:05) while breaking Bolanowski’s course record of 16:06 from the Bob Thomas Invitational earlier this month.
“I’m satisfied, satisfied for now,” Eller said. “I knew I had to work because Tommy’s a really good runner. I think I can still get better, hopefully.”
After the individual winners, some unexpected twists netted Munster a pair of team titles for the race, and the Mustang boys won the overall conference crown.
Hobart’s girls, by virtue of a runner-up showing Saturday and 6-0 regular-season mark, earned the right to the title of 2012 NCC champ.
All season long Hobart’s boys had been finishing ahead of Munster, but the Mustangs’ No. 4 runner, Steven Burgwald, dropped nearly 20 seconds off his time and, along with No. 5 Jimmy Murphy (17th), helped the Mustangs win the meet 41-47.
It was Munster’s fourth title in six seasons.
“We’ve been stressing (their improvement) a lot,” Munster boys coach Aaron Brown said. “The top three have carried us a lot this year.”
Hobart’s Alex Cordova was third, sandwiched between Bolanowski and Munster’s Ryan Kritzer, who edged teammate Emmanuel Lopez (fifth).
“We just stayed mentally tough all through the year and thought we’d be able to beat them, and today we were able to,” Kritzer said.
Munster’s girls were 3-3 in the regular season but won Saturday’s race on a sixth-girl tiebreaker after matching Hobart’s 63 points. Two-time defending champ Kankakee Valley, despite a 17-second drop in PR for third-place Michelle Kent, was third.
“There were teams with faster runners and some with depth, but today our depth came through,” Munster coach Michelle Duffy said. “It wasn’t just that our 1 and 2 (Emily McNicholas and Colleen Ogren) were great, but our 3-7 were stellar.”
Mykaela Burton passed four girls on the final straightaway to give Munster the decisive points.
Whidden, a junior who had only beaten teammate and classmate Celena Guerrero once prior to Saturday, said her sub-20-minute run at New Prairie two weeks ago was an epiphany that she could be successful in this sport, not just track.
“I have a team this year that I really want to run for,” Whidden said.