CROWN POINT | The altered cross country course at Lemon Lake County Park didn’t faze Celena Guerrero.
The triple-digit heat index was unbearable, but Guerrero was unflappable mentally.
The runner just off her shoulder throughout Tuesday’s Crown Point Invitational didn’t rattle Guerrero either. After all, it was teammate and constant friendly rival Mindy Whidden.
Together the Hobart seniors went 1-2, with Guerrero repeating as the event’s champion, and the Brickies edged host Crown Point by a single point to win the seventh annual Crown Point invite 35-36.
Illiana Christian and St. John resident Nick Fiene won the boys race by 31 points.
“We didn’t know about the course change until we got here,” Guerrero said. “Our coach talked us through it, and we were able to strategize. We took the start of the race and relaxed a little bit because it was so hot.”
Guerrero and Whidden strode for the first half of the race, then hit a sunny open field on the other side of the tree line and separated from Crown Point’s Kayla McGurk, Lowell’s Sarah Weiser and Munster’s Emily McNicholas.
The Bulldogs were sixth through eighth, and their fifth runner finished 12th while Hobart’s final three scorers went ninth, 10th and 13th.
“We have a great pack of girls here now, and we’ve been through a lot together,” Guerrero said. “Winning really helps our team spirit.”
Guerrero completed the course in 20:30, with Whidden falling back on the downhill finish and lasting 20:42.
“I love having her getting me to work harder,” Guerrero said. “She pushes me to try harder.”
McGurk and the deep Bulldogs will live to try again. Ten Crown Point runners were among the top 27 finishers.
“The race went better than I thought,” McGurk said. “The girls went out and tried their best even though the heat was unbearable. Second place is not the end of the world. This year I can tell how much stronger we are.”
On the boys side, Crown Point was the runner-up to a thriving Illiana Christian team.
The only thing slowing these Vikings might be Wednesday’s first day of school. Then again, an after-school dunes workout is on the agenda for a team that took a summer trip to Colorado for altitude training and a world-class Jim Ryun camp and also went to Michigan for extreme hill workouts.
The Vikings had never run the Crown Point invite, but they return their top six runners from a team that was sixth in Illinois Class 2A last fall. Indiana cross country races are about a 10th of a mile longer than Illinois races.
“It was definitely nice starting off on a good note,” said Fiene, a St. John resident. “It was good to get out here for our first meet and face some very good competition on a good course.”
Fiene caught the lead pack with a mile and a half to go and surged for an eventual 24-second win over Munster’s Ryan Kritzer, who edged Lowell’s Brian Blaylock, fourth-place teammate Tom Bolanowski and Hobart’s Brent Dunn in a close finish among the top five.
“I just tried to hold onto second place going down that hill,” Kritzer said. “With me and Tom it just depends on the day. We run together, and whoever decides to run ahead does. The temperature was rough, but we had a really good race as a team.”
Crown Point, which lost its formidable top three runners from last year, edged Munster on a sixth-man tiebreaker.
Tyler Gray, who moved from Merrillville to C.P. in the winter and ran track for the Bulldogs in the spring, was sixth in his cross country debut with Crown Point.
“I was really happy with their effort,” C.P. coach Keith Iddings said. “A lot of them have improved, and so many have been working hard.”