By TIM CREASON
NEW CARLISLE – For 90 minutes, at least, Warsaw’s Ashley Erba was clearly the fastest high school girl cross country runner in Indiana history.
But before the Tiger bus even made it out of the parking lot at Saturday’s New Prairie semistate, Erba learned she must try to run even faster next week.
An historic state championship race is shaping up next weekend in Terre Haute, as Erba and Mishawaka’s Anna Rohrer face off one last time after each shattered semistate marks Saturday afternoon.
Erba, a senior and the defending IHSAA state champion, clocked 17:06.9 on New Prairie’s famed 5,000-meter course in New Carlisle, shattering both the previous semistate and course records.
She also lowered the all-time Indiana best from the 17:12.5 she recorded a week earlier at the Culver Academies regional.
But even as Erba’s accomplishment was being acknowledged at the awards ceremony, complete with a standing ovation, word arrived from Fort Wayne that Rohrer – the only cross country runner to beat Erba in the past two years – had clocked 17:03.9 to win the New Haven semistate.
Rohrer did it about an hour-and-a-half after Erba finished her race. So, the Mishawaka sophomore officially assumes the mantle as Indiana’s fastest.
At least for the next week.
“I really don’t care what anybody else does,” said Erba, looking ahead to next Saturday’s showdown at the Wabash Valley Sports Center, near Terre Haute. “Anna is an incredible runner, but … I focus on my own things. I’m really not concerned with what anybody else is doing, I like to focus on what I’m going to do.”
Erba will have company on the starting line as Warsaw’s girls advanced to the state meet with a fifth place overall finish, scoring 180 points. It’s the first time in program history that the girls team has qualified for the State Finals in back-to-back years.
The top six teams and top 15 individual finishers at a semistate qualify for the state meet.Sarah Ray gave the No. 14 Lady Tigers a huge boost, finishing 10th in 19:05, an outstanding effort for the first-year senior.
“This is my first year running cross country, and I didn’t know any of the runners or the teams up here, so I didn’t really have any expectations,” said Ray. “We just knew it would be tough competition.
“I wanted to run for my team,” she added. “We wanted to get down to state as a team, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I helped do that.”
Hannah Dawson was 30th, Madeline Hooks 81st and Emma Hayward 83rd to close out the Tiger scoring.
Claire Kehler placed 113th and Cynthia Yoder 126th for the Tigers.
This was Warsaw’s first appearance in the New Prairie semistate, following years of running at Fort Wayne. Coach Scott Erba tried to match up his squad against the new competition to get a feel for how they should run.“We looked at where (fourth-place) Chesterton and (third-place) Valparaiso ran last week, and we didn’t think there was a lot of difference between us and those two schools,” said the coach. “We just wanted to make sure we were hitting our times and keep passing people.”
West Lafayette dominated the semistate, placing five finishers among the top 12 and scoring 38 points.
Eastern-Greentown and Portage also advanced.
IHSAA GIRLS SEMISTATE CROSS COUNTRY TOURNAMENT
At New Carlisle
Team scores: West Lafayette 38, Eastern (Greentown) 93, Valparaiso 167, Chesterton 172, Warsaw 180, Portage 184, LaPorte 194, Rochester 238, New Prairie 256, Lake Central 267, Crown Point 286, Harrison (Lafayette) 319, Hobart 341, Hebron 367, Culver Academies 382, Munster 391, Twin Lakes 396, Seeger 407, Plymouth 424, Frankfort 572.
Top 20 finishers: 1, Ashley Erba (Warsaw) 17:06.9 (SEMISTATE RECORD). 2, Bobbie Burgess (West Lafayette) 17:38.0. 3, Bethany Neeley (Eastern-Greentown) 18:18.3. 4, Elena Lancioni (LaPorte) 18:36.5. 5, Madeline Lilly (Twin Lakes) 18:51.1. 6, Anna Bearss (Rochester) 18:51.3. 7, Grace Lachmund (West Lafayette) 18:59.2. 8, Taylor Austin (Griffith) 19:00.0. 9, Lauren Johnson (West Lafayette) 19:05.0. 10, Sarah Ray (Warsaw) 19:05.1. 11, Kristen Johnson (West Lafayette) 19:08.3. 12, Cailey Daluga (West Lafayette) 19:11.3. 13, Rachel Thompson (New Prairie) 19:15.4. 14, Brittany Neeley (Eastern-Greentown) 19:17.3. 15, Delaney Barber (West Lafayette) 19:18.9. 16, Kyra Ball (Portage) 19:21.5. 17, Olivia Johnson (Harrison-Lafayette) 19:23.9. 18, Anna Meyer (Rochester) 19:38.4. 19, Sarah Wagner (Eastern-Greentown) 19:39.6. 20, Mindy Whidden (Hobart) 19:42.6.