HOBART | They run the same paths but have on different shoes.
Together Hobart’s Celena Guerrero and Mindy Whidden are the best 1-2 punch in Lake County girls cross country.
And although the Brickie seniors have strung together some incredible runs this year and last, they certainly come from different walks of life when it comes to cross country.
Guerrero is the grown prodigy. As a freshman and sophomore, she dazzled at the semistate. Stress fractures cost her the track season of her sophomore year and caused inconsistency in her junior year.
Whidden, on the other hand, came to cross country as a sprinter looking for endurance work and never dreamed she’d one day win the Northwest Crossroads Conference meet in cross country.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime duo,” Hobart coach Ty Artherhults said. “Runners like them just don’t always come along. They’ve always worked well together and pushed each other every day.”
They have traded wins throughout this season and become equals in conversations about the top local runners.
“Whenever people see us or talk about us, the other one’s name will come up, and I really like that,” said Guerrero, who helped recruit Whidden to cross country their freshman year.
The ebullient Guerrero is making good on all the promise she showed as an underclassman. She is enjoying her senior season while she ponders a college choice with more than half a dozen campus visits to her credit.
As the postseason gets off and running next week, Guerrero, the defending individual champion at the Crown Point Sectional, is cherishing every race while confident that her running career is far from finished.
Individual accolades that have thus far eluded her are on the list of approaching goals. The Brickies also have a shot to end Crown Point’s seven-year sectional win streak.
“After all the work I’ve put in, it’s the postseason, it’s senior year, and now it’s time to show everything I’ve been working for,” she said. “I put added pressure on myself. If I don’t run as well as I want to, I’m going to be disappointed but also really motivated.”
The shy Whidden, meanwhile, is a ringing endorsement for timid athletes who don’t know if they like – or love – something until they’ve tried it.
Two years ago,Whidden was not close to Guerrero on the race courses. She was a bottom-of-the-order runner, and that was fine with her. She ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes in middle school and never fancied herself a distance runner. She was content with the team’s victories.
“Every year it grew on me a little more,” Whidden said. “Once I realized I could compete I really started liking it more and more.”
Whidden finished ahead of Guerrero at last year’s New Prairie Invitational and had an epiphany.
“Individually she didn’t aspire to achieve a lot in cross country,” Guerrero said. “(At New Prairie in 2012), she just kind of realized she could look forward to more success than just the team winning meets. She realized, finally, how good she can be.”
Whidden won the inaugural Rudy Skorupa Invitational in August and won the league meet last Saturday at Hobart’s home course, Maple Lake. She’s quick to credit Guerrero at every turn.
“She’s helped me get where I am, and I really like that,” Whidden said. “I also love having a team that is always good. We don’t go in with individual goals, but it’s nice to have other people around you who always make you run faster.”
Whidden has been to state in track, where she’s progressed from a short sprinter to a 400 and 800 runner and distance relay participant. However, she’s ready for her first run to state in cross country. The new rules regarding advancement favor strong individuals such as her and Guerrero, who won the Crown Point Invitational at Lemon Lake in August.
“It’s pick a day with them, realistically,” Artherhults said. “Mindy’s been on a mission, and they’re not afraid to beat each other, which is nice. They’re going to be right there in the mix at the semistate.”
With all the tutelage between Guerrero the natural and Whidden the reluctant savant, they don’t see each other every day during school or plan to share a limo ride to prom.
“It’s still a really good relationship,” Guerrero said. “We’ll finish workouts, races, whatever, and we’ll get into deep conversations about boys or friends. We do know a lot about each other. We’ve grown as friends from being so close as teammates.”