TERRE HAUTE | Pizza, a team sleepover and a medal.
Tricia Joll won't soon forget turning 18.
"This is the best birthday present ever," the Valparaiso senior said after the Vikings placed a surprising third at Saturday's state cross country finals. "Three months ago, we couldn't even have pictured us being at the state meet, let alone being on the podium. We were kind of under the radar, but we knew the talent the team had. We brought the storm. We made it rain."
Joll's season was clouded by bilateral stress fractures in each of her shins during the summer. Fellow seniors Katelyn DeVries and Lauren Bigger were also slowed by injuries, casting doubt over Valpo's fortunes. But the Vikings were healthy when it mattered the most, and registered 213 points to claim third, four spots better than their final state poll ranking.
"I was hoping top five, fourth at best," coach Karen DeVries said. "I couldn't be happier, especially for the seniors. To see them standing up here getting a medal, I'm just elated. It's so well-deserved. They wanted it so bad.
"All season, we weren't planning on having a full team 'til the postseason. It would've been so easy for them to give up, but they persevered. They fought through it. They stayed focused."
Katelyn DeVries placed 17th in 18:51.4 to lead the Vikings.
"I was hoping top 15, but I'm still happy how I did," DeVries said. "I'm happier for the team than myself. With what I've been through, not running at the beginning of the season. I'm so happy to be up here with them."
It was DeVries' second all-state finish. She placed fourth as a sophomore.
"If she hadn't been injured, she would've done as great as her sophomore year," Joll said.
Bigger and Tiffany Fortney backed DeVries, 1.2 seconds apart in 42nd and 43rd, respectively, with Alison Mundell 83rd and Joll 102nd.
"You've got to group together," coach DeVries said. "I remember all season, knowing if we got here, it was completely in God's hands."
No other area team was a factor with Crown Point (16th, 419), Portage and Lake Central finishing in a row, both teams of Indians scoring 436.
Andrean's Becca Conley was the top local runner and only individual medalist, crossing 14th.
"Wow, I didn't even know," Conley said right afterwards. "After 2K, I was like, 'Oh, man,' but I kept going. Then I started passing people. It's crazy, my first time down to state and look at that! I know everyone's proud of me, and that's the best feeling."
On her legs, Conley printed the names Blaine, Nick, Jeff and Pat in honor of 59ers' senior runners Blaine Wolf, Nick Demass, Jeff Gough and Pat Musgrave, who came up short in their bid for a state berth.
"I wanted to do it for them," Conley said. "We only have one coach, so they're like the other half of our team."
LaPorte's Elena Lancioni (21st) and Griffith's Taylor Austin (24th) were also all-state finishers. Shelby Carroll of Lake Central just missed in 28th.
"My goal was higher than that," Lancioni said. "I was trying to stick with the top group, but you can only do so good sometimes."