The race for postseason glory starts Tuesday for both highly-touted Warsaw cross country programs.
The tournament path this year starts in a different place too for both talented teams.
Warsaw will compete in the Culver Academies Sectional Tuesday after years of running in the Elkhart Sectional at Ox Bow Park.
The No. 6 boys team is a heavy favorite to dominate as the Tigers eye a top five finish at the State Finals later this month in Terre Haute.
Warsaw is led by its terrific trio of seniors Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy and junior Ellis Coon. The outstanding threesome placed 1-2-3 as in Coon, Murphy and Poyner on Sept. 29 at Ox Bow Park as the Tigers won the NLC Meet. The Tigers won the sectional a year ago and then finished third at the regional, fourth at the semi state and 15th at State.
“Being moved to Culver will allow us to rest a few runners as we move on and after 12 years of running in Elkhart we will get to see some new teams and Culver is a great course,” said Warsaw boys coach Jim Mills Saturday. “We have not made many changes in our preparation, however, we will probably train somewhat harder next week than usual.”
“Our main focus now is to get our 5, 6 and 7 runners 20 seconds faster. They need to be there if we are to get on the podium We will pack run next week in an effort to get our 5, 6 and 7 runners to get where we need them. Our line up will change from the sectional to the Regional It’s nice to be a favorite, however, we still need good races to build up momentum going into the semi state.”There are a pair of story lines on the girls’ side for Warsaw.
First, will be the performance of senior superstar Ashley Erba. The defending state champion ran the third fastest time in state history at the NLC Meet Sept. 29, clocking in at 17:17. That came after she posted the fastest time in state annals at 17:13 earlier this season at of all places, the Culver Academies Invitational.
The second saga is Warsaw’s bid to repeat as sectional champions for the first time in program history with almost an entirely new lineup from a year ago. Erba is the lone runner who competed at State in 2011 when Warsaw placed 11th.
“Moving to the Culver Sectional is an exciting change,” said Warsaw girls coach Scott Erba. “We get to race against some teams that we do not see or rarely see and that is a nice change of pace in the tournament season. Since the NLC meet, we have been building on our confidence and started to introduce speed work. We just missed out on one team goal of winning the NLC but the girls ran well and are ready take the next step in their racing progression as we get to run on a course that speed friendly.”
“We aim to win the sectional (the third in school history and the first time of winning two in a row) and place our girls in the Top 15. For Ashley, her bigger races are down the line so Tuesday will be a good day to see the Culver course once more before regionals on Saturday. I expect her to follow her race plan and strategy to win her third sectional title individually and lead the team to a team championship.”
The field at Culver Academies includes Warsaw, Caston, Culver Academies, Culver, Lakeland Christian Academy, Manchester, North Miami, Plymouth, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley and Triton. Action is scheduled to start there at 5:10 p.m. Tuesday
Wawasee will compete in the Elkhart Sectional, slated to begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Ox Bow Park. The Warrior boys’ team, which finished sixth at the sectional in 2011, was fourth at the NLC Meet. Reid Stichter led Wawasee there with a ninth place individual finish.
The Wawasee girls’ team, which placed third behind Warsaw and Northridge at last year’s sectional at Ox Bow, is led by Breanna Robinson. The sophomore was eighth overall at the NLC Meet as the Warriors finished in fifth place.
Northridge, ranked No. 13 on the boys side and No. 9 in the girls poll, is the team to beat Tuesday in the Elkhart Sectional. The Raiders won the girls team title at the NLC Meet, while the boys squad was second to Warsaw (29-36).
The field at Elkhart includes Wawasee, Northridge, Bethany Christian, Concord, Goshen, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fairfield, Jimtown and NorthWood.
Whitko will compete in the Fort Wayne Northrop Sectional Tuesday.
The top five teams and the top 15 individuals at each sectional site on Tuesday advance to regionals on Saturday (Oct. 13). Area regional hosts are Culver Academies, Elkhart Central (Ox Bow Park) and West Noble.