WARSAW – For Ashley Erba, it’s a case of been there done that when it comes to the State Finals Saturday.
For the rest of the No. 16 Warsaw girls cross country team, not quite the same story.
Senior Erba looks to repeat as individual state champion, while it will be the first time competing in the season’s final meet for her six teammates.
Erba, who earlier this week committed to Providence College, set a state record in winning a year ago in 18:05. She broke her own state record last Saturday in winning at the New Prairie Semistate in 17:06.9, only to learn less than two hours later that Mishawaka sophomore Anna Rohrer went 17:03.96 to win the New Haven Semistate.
Erba, whose lone loss in a meet the last two seasons was to Rohrer in the New Prairie Invitational back in September, seems tired of even talking about her counterpart.
“I’m going to meet my goals on Saturday,” said Erba Wednesday night after practice. “I don’t go into races thinking about what other girls are going to do. That’s not how I operate.”
Erba set a new state record the first time (breaking Rohrer’s mark from the New Prairie Invite) with a clocking of 17:13 at the Culver Academies Invitational on Sept. 22. She then broke that back at Culver Academies again in winning the regional title there two weeks ago in 17:12.
Warsaw girls coach Scott Erba expects another superb performance from his star daughter.
“I think it will be a great race and it’s all about Ashley running her best race,” said coach Erba. “I think she feels good, her focus is good and she has a strong desire to win. I think it will be really fast and really fun to watch on Saturday.
“It’s a huge boost to her confidence to know how she’s run on that course before and what she has done in other big meets. She’s also been consistent all season on a variety of different types of courses. What she has done so far is phenomenal in terms of her preparation, training and performances.”
Erba’s goal for Saturday, when the forecast calls for dry conditions and 50-55 degrees in Terre Haute, hasn’t changed.
“Absolutely,” she said without a hint of hesitation when asked does she still want to break 17 minutes. “I’m just really excited to perform. I love knowing that I’ve run well on that course. All my experiences so far add up too. It’s going to be really exciting and I plan to savor it.”
Erba has plenty of big meet experience on her side. She won the state championship in the 3,200-meter run in June and then captured the 5,000-meter run at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals later that month with a meet record time. Rohrer, on the other hand, did not run for Mishawaka in the state tourney series in 2011.
Coach Erba will take six other runners set to run for the first time at State on Saturday. The Tigers, going to state for just the third time overall and the first time ever in back-to-back years, placed 11th at the finals in 2011. Erba is the lone runner back from that group of seven as four graduated and sisters Anna and Ellie Bearss moved to Rochester.
“This is a no pressure situation for the team,” said coach Erba. “It should be stress free for all these girls competing down there for the first time. Last week at the semi state (where Warsaw placed fifth) was the pressure for us to qualify for state.
“I just want us to run well on Saturday and gain that experience for the future. I want the girls to just worry about ourselves and stay together in their pack.”
Senior Sarah Ray has been a huge addition for the Tigers this fall. The standout basketball player, who transferred to WCHS from Illinois last year, is in her first year running cross country. She placed third at both the sectional and regional meets and was 10th at the New Prairie Semistate last Saturday.
Senior Erba and Ray will be joined in the Warsaw lineup on Saturday by freshmen Hannah Dawson and Emma Hayward, junior Madeline Hooks and seniors Emily Stouder and Tayler Mylin. Also making the trip to State will be senior Cynthia Yoder, sophomores Tennie Worrell and Hannah Thompson and freshmen Claire Kehler and Brooke Rhodes.
“Eleventh place is the best we’ve ever done at state and that’s something to shoot for,” said coach Erba. “If we could get in the top 10 that would be phenomenal. But, if we perform well and equal our ranking with our finish, I’ll be happy.”
The girls race Saturday is set to begin at 1 p.m. The 5,000-meter event is set for the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Sports Center near Terre Haute.
Also in the field of 24 girls teams are Northridge and Penn.