The trip up the Interstate was made under sunny skies that well disguised the fact that it was quite cool with a temperature in the mid-forties. There was also a stiff breeze, which would not seem to take a break, yet there were at least four signs along the way proclaiming that Indiana was holding a state cross country meet and they were not only proud of it but welcoming fans as well. It was certainly a departure from the norm, where the hard-working runners seem to be hidden under a cloud of apathy.
Upon arrival there was on display the usual carnival of tents and the usual face-painting but the Hoosier Harriers were far more inventive and they sported unique costumes, as well as an entire group in tutus. There was much to take in yet the greatest thrill was in the realization that there would be but one race for guys and another for girls. The best runners would face each other, rather than run in divisions, which dilutes the competition and that alone was reason to cheer as well as anticipate. Better too is the fact that Indiana is loaded with talent, so much so that one father lamented than in any other year, his daughter could be expected to head the field but this was no normal year.
Neeley, Billingsley, Abrahamson & Aldrich
In the girls’ field alone there were two young ladies, who had taken turns beating each other and topping each others’ state records. Mind you we are not just speaking about course or personal records but all-time State records. Just last week defending State champion Ashley Erba won her Semi-State meet in 17:06, which was the fastest ever recorded by an Indiana girl in history, yet she held the record for maybe a half hour until Anna Rohrer won her Semi-State meet in 17:03. With their pairing alone it was tantalizing for a fan but there were others, who were recording impressive marks.
Given the almost stunning marks of Erba & Rohrer it would not have been a great surprise, if their challengers respectfully awaited their initial recognition and allowed them to race at the front and, although the duo could be seen near the front and separated by but one runner during the mass start there would be no deferential treatment and in point of fact at the two minute mark it was Mackenzie Caldwell of Columbus North, who was leading the pack. At that early point Rohrer was back in fourth, while Erba was far enough back that she could not be distinguish. Mackenzie had triumphed in her Semi last week and she had not arrived at the LaVern Gibson course to concede anything. Caldwell charged down the course and it took a another half minute to determine that second place belong to Madison Woods, who had a slight lead over Rohrer and it remained that way through the 1K mark, which was reached in 3:06.
During the next stage of the last Caldwell continued to lead and was challenged by Rohrer, while Woods grudging yielded ground. Ashley Erba, meanwhile, began to close in and had joined Caldwell & Rohrer by the time that they had reached the mile mark in a brisk 5:26 and I do mean brisk, as they were heading into the teeth of a stiff wind. There would be little change except for the fact that there were two main packs, which were separated by a significant distance from each other as well as the legion of challengers, who were even further removed. That left Bobbie Burgess with the option of remaining in the second pack or somehow trying to bridge the gap to get close to the leaders. It is always a difficult choice, for it is hard to catch others by yourself, especially when your rivals have another to race against but Burgess, who had placed third last year was not about to concede easily and she raced alone through the no-man’s land ahead of her. And against the odds Bobbie had managed to get herself into contention by about the 7:46 mark in the race. At the half way mark the trio still had the lead but Burgess was closing.
Sadly it is often enough of a challenge to glean aspects of the race near the front and events happening further back are over-looked but there are always a number of other races with each race and it was certainly true this Saturday. While the front trio was gliding along with Burgess slowly closing, there was a second pack further back, which had its own story to tell. At that point Anna Aldrich, who had placed second last week behind Rohrer’s historic performance, was leading the second pack. Mary Abramson, who had challenged Caldwell early & had won the Carmel Semi-State, held second in this group and was just ahead of Sarah Billingsley of Oldenburg Academy, who was a stride in front of Bethany Neeley of Eastern. Each of them was left to decide what they had left, as they battled for position with each other, while still trying not to concede things to the runners, who were ahead of them. Though not quite in the chase pack Abigail Hostetler of Fremont was only a few strides behind & she in turn was followed by Madison Woods, who was fighting to maintain her form after earlier efforts yet one has to appreciate those runners, who are willing to challenge themselves as well as others in a race.
While the race was playing out in the second division, group in the front, which had almost become four with Burgess, was now unraveling as Erba & Rohrer began to duel. The pair edged ahead of Caldwell at first and then quickly widened the gap and by two miles, which was reached in 11:10, they had opened up a wide gap. Still all that time Burgess was making her own surge and, although she was merely keeping pace at first with Erba & Rohrer, she was reeling in Caldwell. It was that race mentality, which allowed her to fight for that position, which she admitted later, she felt was sort of hers (though she would never express it exactly that way)
At first it was Erba, who forced the issue by pushing the pace after twelve minutes but then it was Rohrer, who accelerated shortly after the thirteen minute mark. The Mishawaka runner had finally forged a lead prior to making the final turn before the long stretch and she seemed to inexorably gain momentum, as she strode up the slight grade towards home. It evoked memories of former state champion Celeste Susnis, who defeated Melody Fairchild at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional and then again at Nationals. It would mark the last time that Fairchild, then but a sophomore, would lost a race as a prep in America. Given the wind this was a most impressive race and her time was way under the record of 18:05 set by Erba in 2011. Erba for her part ran 17:29 and also looked like a runner destined to head to Foot locker and San Diego.
While Bobbie Burgess was not able to get back with the two leaders, she not only caught but stormed past Caldwell and placed third in 17:51: a mark which would have made her a winner any other year. Mackenzie Caldwell followed with an impressive fourth place effort in 17:55 making it a stunning four runners under eighteen minutes. While Bethany Neely did not quite break the magic barrier, she closed well in the last mile to finish fifth in 18:04 and it should be remembered that she was only eighth at the half-way mark. That is not to overlook the fact that she too had dipped under the former state record. Anna Aldrich showed her grit by coming in sixth in 18:11. Sarah Billingsley finished by herself in seventh with a time of 18:21 and was followed four seconds later by Kendra Foley of Noblesville.
Abigail Hostetler of Fremont garnered ninth in 18:29 edging Rachel Nichwitz of Hamilton Southwestern, who had almost the same time. Amanda Farrough of South Bend Clay earned eleventh in 18:30 and Gina Genco of Carmel rounded out the top twelve with her clocking of 18:31, as she led her team to a State title with a low of 66 points. West Lafayette was a distant second with 147 and they were led by Bobbie Burgess. The trophies the teams won were certainly worthy of their effort and one surprised WL runner exclaimed “Oh my God…” as she looked on in awe. After what fans had witnessed both were quite fitting.
The guys had a tough act to follow, especially since the last four years were dominated by Futsum Zeinasellassie, who was a three-time State winner plus second as a freshman behind Drew Shields. The State has a great tradition, which can be evidenced in the rather surprising fact that Chris Walden placed fourth at State yet turned around and finished fifth at Foot locker nationals in San Diego and this year’s edition a very solid addition. Jaedon Wilson of Carmel held the lead early through 400 meters and was pursued by Zach Panning of Fort Wayne Concordia & Jonathan Reynolds of North Harrison.
Panning & Reynolds held sway at the 1K mark, which was passed in 2:46. Behind them ran Nicholas Lagemann of Prairie Height, who had placed second behind panning at the new Haven Semi-State meet. It was not long after that, when Panning made a bold move to the front and he led through the first mile in 4:44. Reynolds followed him there and remained close behind through the 2K in 5:58 but soon founded the pace too rich. Panning quickly opened a larger lead and by the seven minute mark it would be around 30 to 40 meters.
Bertoli & Reeder
By the time Zach reached the half-way point in 7:16 his lead over Reynolds & Lagemann may have been as large as fifty yards but the large phalanx, which until that time had been biding its time began to move in earnest. They ate up ground going up the hill and by the time it was at the eight minute mark the once huge lead had been whittled from 15 seconds to around five. The two mile went in a brisk 9:48 with Panning gamely holding on but Connor Sorrells, who had won the Brown County Semi with the best time of the day was now making a charge. He remained in second at the 11:40 mark of the race but he took the lead shortly after that point and soon established a commanding lead.
Sorrells would not be denied and he stormed home in a fine time of 15:21 in spite of the wind, which kept up its own intensity. Panning ran like a Spartan and refused to yield much and finished strong in 15:26 with gave him a two second edge over Troy Reeder of Hamilton Southeastern, who made a late move, which earned him third. Jackson Bertoli of Terre Haute South came in fourth with 15:34, which was impressive given his third place finish at Semi. Kyle Eller of Lowell claimed fifth in 15:35. Jacob Poyner of Warsaw fought hard to grab sixth in 15:37 and Matt Dorsey of Lawrence Center followed two seconds later in seventh.
Ellis Coon of Warsaw ran 15:41 to nip Kyle DuVall of Westfield and the depth and quality of the field was on display, as runners began to pour over the finish line. James Huffman of North Central (Indianapolis) placed tenth in 15:42 and Alec Kostelnic of Morgan Township followed in eleventh in 15:42. Jonathan Reynolds was the first of three runners, who were credited with a version of 15:43 and a surprising thirteen more runners broke sixteen minutes including three under 15:50 on a day, which should not have been conducive to swift times. It is no wonder that the State has produced a Foot Locker National champion, Mike Fout, and numerous other top ten finishers including Futsum ’s two straight second place finishers. Although the season has ended for a number of runners, there are more than a few, who have a very reasonable chance to qualifying for at XC’s Mecca of Foot Locker.
Eller & Bertoli