CROWN POINT — The Highland boys cross country team came into the Crown Point Regional as one of the favorites, and they did not disappoint, taking second place overall.
With five of the top 17 runners, the Trojans used their strong teamwork to power them on a crisp Saturday morning on a muddy course at Lemon Lake County Park.
“I’m just really proud that they hung together as long as they did, which is what we’ve done all season long,” Highland coach Rob Lukowski said.
One development for Highland late in the season has been the improvement of senior Matthew Roach after what Lukowski called a “frustrating junior year.”
“(Roach) has stepped up the last two weeks and really done an amazing job of rounding out our top six,” Lukowski said.
Roach, who was 29th at 17:59.25, said he didn’t change anything about his approach year over year, but that he just stayed the course.
“It is mostly just hard work and showing up every day, putting in the effort,” he said.
Lucas Guerra was second (16:12.11), Benjamin Salinas was seventh (17:13.50), Vincent Bovino was ninth (17:21.20), Mateo Garcia was 14th (17:26.78) and Alex Alegre was 17th (17:36.50).
The top five teams at the regional advanced to semistate. Crown Point finished first, Lowell was third, Lake Central was fourth and Merrillville was fifth.
A young Griffith team came out of the gates quickly, ultimately finishing ninth at Crown Point, but showing its potential going forward.
Griffith coach Shannon Scheidel wasn’t sure heading into the race whether any of her athletes would advance to semistate, but the team gave big cheers when sophomore Jonathan Baxter was announced as moving on individually.
The top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams qualified for semistate.
Baxter, who also qualified as a freshman, said that despite tough conditions and chaos on the course early, he was happy with his race.
His time of 17:51.55 was much better than his 2017 regional time of 19:09.82. He credited his maturity physically and mentally for the leap.
“I felt a lot better this year,” Baxter said. “During track I matured a lot and became a leader for the team. I grew a lot physically so I got a lot faster.”
That physical growth: A 3-inch growth spurt over the summer that gave him a longer stride.
Though Griffith will graduate seniors Andrew Garcia, Matthew Plopper and Myles Taylor, their top six was rounded out with two freshman: Jacob Catizone and Hayden O’Brien.
Though E.C. Central finished No. 10 as a team, coach Alex Rosado told his team repeatedly that they had plenty of reasons to be proud of themselves.
He said that they won conference, which was a team goal. He expected them to advance past sectionals, which they did. And although he didn’t expect them to finish in the top five at regionals, he told them they could all week so they would put in their best effort and try to prove everyone wrong.
“Individually, my guys gave it everything they’ve got,” Rosado said. “Ran with heart, just like we told them to, and that’s all I can ask for. Come out here and just give it everything you’ve got, regardless of what people think of us. People don’t see East Chicago as a team that can compete, as a cross country school.”
Rosado’s top runner, senior Enrique Romo, advanced to the semistate meet individually for the second straight year, which he said was his personal goal. He finished No. 31 overall at 18:01.66.