After all these years of trekking to Terre Haute for the state cross country meet, you'd think I'd know the trip like the back of my hand.
But those of you who know me well enough are aware I'm as directionally challenged as I am vertically and follicularly (growing hair). Photographer Danny Shelton managed to get me to the course just in time. On the way back, I probably saw about an hour more of east-central Indiana (read desolate) than I needed or wanted to see.
For region teams, the issue isn't getting to LaVern Gibson, it's what they do once they get there. Last Saturday marked the third time in four years on the boys side and fourth time in five years for the girls that NWI has failed to get a school on the awards truck; i.e., finishing in the top five.
LaPorte's 10th-place finish topped the girls, while Munster (12th) led the boys. Valpo's boys, the region standard bearer in recent years, were once considered a medal contender, but were nowhere to be found, lagging in 18th.
A state hotbed for the sport not all that long ago, the area has slipped a couple rungs on the competitive ladder. Never mind hanging with Carmel. With the exception of Columbus North, the Greyhounds are in a class unto themselves, the winners of four consecutive girls crowns and the last two boys.
This isn't about winning state titles — something that hasn't happened since 2005, when Valpo captured its third straight girls trophy — this is about simply getting back into the mix. It goes back to 2001, when Valpo claimed the top boys prize.
It doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon. West Lafayette swept the New Prairie Semistate and both squads are locked and loaded to maintain supremacy in the northern third of the state.
Were we spoiled by the glory days of region cross country? Was the bar set too high to sustain? Is this the new normal? At the risk of sounding all Gloomy Gus, I hazard to guess that the answers are yes, yes and yes.
That said, success in running isn't simply measured by hardware. The good news for the sport in our area is it appears the overall ranks are strengthening. State qualifiers Munster, Lake Central and Crown Point all return the core of their boys lineups, as does near-miss LaPorte. With Valpo facing major graduation losses again, the balance of power in our trio of counties could be shifting. Among the girls, Portage and Lake Central appear set for a good battle at the top.
Individually, Munster's Ryan Kritzer looks primed to become the new lead dog among boys, establishing himself as such in the postseason, while the girls field looks to be wide, wide open in the post-Elena Lancioni era. A true ambassador of the sport, she will be missed.
Congrats to Lancioni, schoolmate Anthony Didion, the Aaron Rodgers doppelganger, and Lowell's Brian Blaylock on their selection to the Indiana All-Star team. They will compete in the Mideast Meet of Champions Nov. 16 in Kettering, Ohio, closing the book on the 2013 season.
In the meantime, anybody who has a fool-proof (with emphasis on fool) route to and from the state finals venue, please let me know. I'd appreciate it.