LIBERTY TOWNSHIP | For some schools and athletes, the sectional race is little more than a run-through, a precursor to bigger races to come in the days and weeks ahead.
For others, there's no diminishing its significance.
"I'm the happiest third-place finisher ever," a giddy Louie Guillen said after his Wheeler boys advanced from Tuesday's Chesterton Sectional.
Then there was Boone Grove's Jon Hogg, who high-tailed it down the stretch to place 15th, the last individual spot that qualifies for Saturday's New Prairie Semistate.
"A bunch of people were yelling, 'You're in 16th!'" Hogg said. "Then I heard somebody say, 'How much would it suck to be 16th?' We've been talking for a week. I knew I was right on the edge. I just had to go."
South Central's Kyleigh Werner knows what 16th place feels like. It's where she crossed last fall. This time, there was no drama as the Satellites sophomore came across third in 19:07.9.
"The bus ride home last year, remembering that feeling, drove me to improve," Werner said. "It was a big motivation. It was good to know I wasn't on the bubble. It feels good to know I can run with (the leaders)."
Valpo defended team titles on both sides, the girls winning their third in a row, the boys their second.
"It is a big deal and the girls need to understand what a big deal it is," said Valpo girls coach Boomer Nellessen, who ran four freshmen. "We ran OK, nothing spectacular. We've got some really tough girls fighting some things. They need to understand it's all about persevering at this point, advancing and learning while you do it."
The Vikings girls topped Chesterton, 51-69, while the Valpo boys posted a tidy 24, putting seven runners in the top 10. Portage was second at 88, its first finisher (Dustin Balboa) 12th.
"It's one of the best sectionals in the state and the competition obviously spurs our guys on," Valpo coach Mike Prow said. "It's the tournament, so we didn't want to forget what got us here. We wanted to keep the group together as much as we could through the first loop and the second mile, and whoever's feeling good at that point can go. That's their chance to show their individualism."
Valpo's Peyton Reed broke from the lead pack to win in 15:39.1, a personal best by 10 seconds and 11.2 seconds in front of LaPorte's Anthony Didion. Viking Taylor Bisacchi was third and Ari Coulopoulos fifth. Four more Valpo runners followed Wheeler freshman Joel O'Shea (sixth).
"I felt like I had something to prove after DACs," Reed said of the Duneland Athletic Conference meet, where he finished fourth. "I was really disappointed and wanted to show that that was a fluke. At the two-mile, I just took off and didn't look back. I just wanted to get to the finish line faster than everybody else."
Elena Lancioni took control of the girls race midway through, clocking in at 18:43.8 for her first sectional title. New Prairie's Rachel Thompson (18:54.5) was runner-up.
"I wanted to win the sectional. I felt it was time to get that done," Lancioni said. "There were a lot of good runners. I felt like it was a little fast, so I held back at the beginning. I wasn't worried about time. I was just going out and trying for the championship."