CULVER | There was a feel of fall in the air Saturday at Culver Academy, where wind, cool temperatures and intermittent rain rudely greeted runners with a slap in the face.
Not that it bothered South Central's Kyleigh Werner or Elena Lancioni of LaPorte.
Werner finished second in the Closed Division (small schools) race, while Lancioni took 12th in the Open Division, posting a personal-best time of 18:28.4.
"I don't mind it," Lancioni said of the conditions. "The only thing was you had to be careful about the turns with the mud. It was a little slippery. You just had to slow down."
Lancioni led local runners in the big school race, which was won handily by defending state champion Ashley Erba of Warsaw in a meet-record time of 17:13.7.
"There were a lot of fast girls I'd never run with before," Lancioni said. "I generally get out pretty fast. I was just trying to stick up with Bethany Neeley again, which helped me get out of the pack. I put in a couple hard workouts in practice and I was able to carry it through to the weekend. I was finally able to get that 18:30 hump. It's the little confidence booster I needed going into the post-season."
Werner checked in second at 19:17.7 to Twin Lakes' Madeline Lilly (18:57.3), who she chased early in the season at North White.
"The weather was poor, everything was damp, so performances weren't obviously going to be at a peak, but that doesn't really bother me at all," Werner said. "I wasn't worried about the conditions. I was just focused on racing. I started off on the right foot. My preparation was good coming in."
The finish was a marked improvement for Werner, who took 16th at the meet last year.
"My times are dropping," she said. "That makes me look forward to the future, to see how much faster I can get."
Hebron's sixth-place finish in the Closed Division was the area's best showing. It was the Hawks' first trip to the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee.
"This was a whole different ball game than last Saturday (New Prairie)," coach Mike DeFries said. "It was a whole different group of teams we were facing. There were a lot more big schools in this one. The cutoff was 1,050 and we're a school of 300. There were some really good ones our size that we beat. It was a good group effort."
The Hawks were led by Lexie Schatz (25th) and got a boost from freshman fill-in Sarah Benjamin (72nd), who came in fifth for Hebron.
Valpo (10th, 340) had the highest area finish in the open division, which was won by Carmel (66).
"It's a good barometer. Almost every team ranked in the state was here," Vikings coach Boomer Nellessen said. "We had some mini-goals we wanted to improve on from New Prairie. We actually got out (well) this week. I thought we would be between ninth and 11th and we were right in the middle."
Alison Mundell (37th) led Valpo, followed by freshman Ellie Joll (45th).