With an enrollment of about 100, there aren't that many more students walking the halls at LaCrosse High School than Valparaiso has on its cross country teams.
But the beauty of the sport is you need only five for a team score.
The Tigers, with 15 runners between their squads, advanced both the girls and boys to today's New Prairie Regional, the first time it's been done in school history.
"It hasn't been a boys and girls team. It's been one team," LaCrosse coach Brian McMahan said. "Being so small and having one coach, it's easy to see yourself as one team. They practice together and do the same stuff. Of the 15 kids, seven of them are seniors, and they really wanted it."
The LaCrosse boys placed a solid third at Tuesday's Rensselaer Sectional, paced by Nate Rhodes (fourth) and Riley Charlesworth (12th). The Tigers girls claimed the fifth and final qualifying spot, edging North Newton by six points.
"We knew the boys were going to get out," McMahan said. "The girls, after their weak finish in the PCC, we weren't sure of their chances. It felt similar to two years ago, when the boys made it. Everyone ran a perfect race for us. The only place to run in LaCrosse is on the street. We run on pavement year-round, so they're used to flat courses like Rensselaer."
Three LaCrosse girls recorded personal bests of more than a minute.
"It feels really good," said Taylor Guse, who placed 12th. "We didn't think we were going to make it past the sectional. Everyone was surprised we did. It shows how much work we've put in. We've done a lot of work we haven't done in the past, and it's paid off."
The regional berth is the girls' first since 1997, and the feat wasn't lost on the school's towns of Wanatah and LaCrosse. The team bus received an escort from the Dewey and Cass township fire departments about three miles from the high school all the way to Wanatah and back. As they drove north up U.S. 421, residents cheered the teams along the county roads, with tractors and combines flashing their lights on the side roads. Supporters followed the parade to Wanatah, where people came out of their houses to applaud them. By the time the bus made it back to LaCrosse, there were about 30 cars following the parade.
"It was like nothing I've ever experienced, the two towns coming together as one," Guse said. "It was neat to see. The whole bus ride, everyone was really excited. We were all yelling out the windows."
The teams were also honored with a pep rally after school Friday.
"(Wednesday), everyone was coming in and congratulating us," Guse said. "There's more school pride than in the past. It's something I'll definitely remember later on."