Lake Central sophomore Alaina Willis knows the secrets to running at the IHSAA state track meet: water on her neck and ice on her wrists.
Only four hours south of Lake County, the home of Indiana University can feel like it's south of the equator during the first week of June. And for region runners, jumpers and throwers vying for a state title, that could be the difference between a gold medal put around the neck and a face buried in a towel.
The state champion runner from Lake County was Roosevelt's Valerie Stone, who won the 100-meter high hurdles and 300 low hurdles in 2007. That same year, West Side captured the 400 relay crown.
Beyond those, it's been 10 years since Lake Central's Tiffany Redlarczyk won the 3,200 at state and 11 since the last sprint championships. Bishop Noll's Jennifer Dennie won the 100 for the second straight time in 2000 and West Side's Tabitha Flournoy took first in the 200.
During the last decade, there have been various second-place finishes and heartbreaks at the tape. Will this be the year a region runner takes home a state title?
"That's a very good question," Lake Central coach Ron Fredrick said.
Among local coaches, the general thought as to what's caused the lack of winning is twofold: First, the area weather stays cooler longer, thus preventing area runners from being exposed to warmer temperatures as quickly as their southern Indiana counterparts. In addition, track and field has simply become less of a priority for many high school athletes.
"It's something we deal with around here a lot," E.C. Central coach Corey Bailey said. "A lot of kids have to baby-sit their brothers and sisters. If you look at more well-off areas, they have the money to pay somebody.
"You just have to grit your teeth and bear it."
At Lew Wallace, Joe Blackwell, who has been coaching track and field for 24 years, said he's seen a lot of talented runners not able to commit to the sport because of a work schedule. When the Hornets won three straight state titles from 1992-94, Blackwell said that wasn't an issue.
But the weather has stayed the same, and even though there's nothing runners, jumpers and throwers can do about what Mother Nature throws at them, Blackwell noted that it's still another obstacle to have to handle.
On Thursday, Lake Central's boys and girls teams were training outside. Some boys showed the bravado of a high school mindset and went shirtless, but the girls layered up to brave bone-chilling winds.
"We get all that lake-effect weather, just as is the case right now," Fredrick said. "We are six weeks into the season and we haven't had any really good training weather yet. If you're in Indianapolis, you probably have been able to train outside for more than a month."
When teams are forced to stay inside, it takes away from their ability to catch up to the Indianapolis schools. And then when the weather gets warmer around the time of regionals -- which this year will take place the last week of May -- athletes sometimes lose focus.
"I'm sure it's not just our team," Bailey said. "Some girls are not going to practice because it's cold outside. When you're not going to practice, that's putting somebody a step ahead of you (or) two steps ahead of you."
Lake Central's 3,200 relay team finished second in 2008 and 2010, and fifth in 2009. The Indians understand better than most the power of the heat.
"It's definitely a challenge that we have to overcome," senior Anna Kacius said. "I remember the state meet two years ago -- we could've sworn it was 95 degrees and we were dying. But it turned out it was 72.
"It's definitely a big shock when we get down there. We just have to know to get prepared for that and know how to stay cool."