The title at the end of the evening for Warsaw star Ashley Erba was also a familiar one.
Just call the dedicated, determined distance dynamo a state champion once again.
Erba dominated the field in the 3,200 meter run to cap her junior season with a second state title at the 39th annual finals held at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex at Indiana University. The standout won the individual cross country state championship back in October.
Erba, the top seed in the 3,200, ran off and left the competition in the second mile of the race held in cool conditions. She posted a winning time of 10:24.94, bettering her seed time of 10:33.61 and not far off the state record mark of 10:20.66 set by Waverly Neer of Culver Academy in 2011. Her time was the fourth best in state history in the 3,200.
“I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t break the record because that was definitely one of my goals,” said Erba shortly after the race. “It’s kind of like shucks and darn. But, I’m not going to dwell on it.
“I have two state titles now. It’s sinking in a little bit. It’s incredible to thing about where I am now. I’ve been extremely blessed and I think about that a lot. It feels good.”
Erba’s time Friday night also shattered her own school record mark of 10:31.16 set in the sectional at WCHS two weeks ago.
Erba executed her strategy to near perfection Friday night. She worked her way cleanly through the bunched group of 34 runners early on and then went shoulder to shoulder with No. 2 seed Brenna Paulsen of North Central through the first four laps of the eight-lap race. Erba then took off and controlled the race, beating Paulsen by nearly 13 seconds to the finish line.
“My goal was to go out smooth and strong and then pick it up and have a great second mile,” Erba explained. “I felt confident. I knew I had it under control. I stuck to my plan.
“I know I was capable of the record and I just missed it. There was no point in the race where I eased up. I looked up at the clock and was a little off the pace (to break the record) and I tried to pick it up.”
Erba also talked about the decision made by herself and coach/father Scott Erba after the regional to drop her from the 1.600 at state to focus completely on the 3,200. Erba placed 20th in the 1,600 at state in 2011.
“It was kind of tough, but we talked about it earlier in the season,” said Erba. “I knew the 3,200 was what I wanted. We wanted one great race and I was all for that.”
Erba’s 10 points for her victory gave the No. 14 Tigers a tie for 23rd place in the final team standings Friday night. Pike won the team state title with 55 points, while Fort Wayne Northrop was runner-up with 49.
Westview, getting three state championships from senior star Skyler Carpenter, was the top area finisher in the team standings with 38 points to place fourth. Carpenter, who will take her immense talents to Vanderbilt, won both hurdles races and the long jump. She finished her brilliant prep career with three state championships in the 300 low hurdles and two each in the 100 high hurdles and the long jump.
Coach Erba admitted to having much bigger butterflies than his state champion daughter did.
“I’m sure I had a lot more nerves tonight than she did,” said coach Erba as he held the distinctive shoes (one green and one blue) his daughter competes in. “She was confident. She had put the work in to achieve this.
“When she crossed that finish line, it was relief. It was she got what she worked for. There was some anxiety beforehand for me. The first thing tonight was to win. She wanted the record and she still had one of the fastest times ever.
“It’s just a phenomenal difference, especially in her times, to see where she has come in the last year. I think the experience at state last year really helped to kick start this year. She was motivated to get better and she certainly did that.
“She wanted to finish this season feeling great.”