WARSAW – Jim Mills said back in August that his Warsaw boys cross country team could surprise some people this fall.
It turns out that the longtime coach is one smart cookie.
The No. 9 Tigers should be in the mix come Saturday for another championship at the New Prairie Semistate.
Warsaw, second at the semi state in 2012, should be a shoo-in for a top six finish Saturday and a trip back to the State Finals in Terre Haute on Nov. 2.
The Tigers, coming off dominating sectional and regional championships at Culver Academies, have thrived again this season. Warsaw lost All-State runners Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy from last year’s team that placed a program best fourth at State. The Tigers also graduated steady Brysten James and had several runners opt not to return this season.
“I can’t say enough about what these guys have done this season,” said Mills. “They’ve just done an unbelievable job for us. They’ve worked hard and it’s a tough group.
“I said early on that even with all we lost and the guys we had decided not to run this year that we could surprise some people. It’s been really rewarding to see this team rise to the occasion. My coaching staff has just done a great job with them.”
Warsaw will be led at the semi state by standout Ellis Coon. The senior, who placed fifth overall at New Prairie last year, has recovered from a little bit of a mid-season slump to shine in the postseason. Coon won the NLC title and followed that up with sectional and regional championships, including 16:17 at the regional last Saturday. Coon, who was eighth overall at the State Finals as a junior, missed most of his junior track season in the spring due to a foot injury.
“I would be shocked if Ellis is not at the front at the end of the race on Saturday,” Mills said of the Temple recruit. “I think when they hit the home stretch that he will be right where he needs to be and that’s fighting for the championship. I know I would not bet against him in the last 200 meters against anyone.”
The Tigers return the trio of Coon, along with sophomore Owen Glogovsky and junior Daniel Messenger from last year’s semi state team. The lineup this Saturday will also include juniors Tyler Houvener, Nick Bergen and Jacob DeBoest and sophomore Jonathan Beres.
The duo of Bergen and Beres have stepped up big time with outstanding efforts this fall for Warsaw. Bergen, who was not on the sectional roster in 2012, was ninth overall at the regional. Beres, who did even run cross country a year ago, was 17th overall at the regional.
“There’s a lot of good teams in the semi state, but if we put it together like at the regional we will be fine,” remarked Mills. “The main goal is to advance. Our guys know the competition there fairly well and just need to go about their business and not get complacent.
“We have never won a semi state, but it is certainly within our reach this year. Maybe even more so than last year. West Lafayette is young, but they are probably the toughest team there.”
The New Prairie semi state field features No. 4 West Lafayette, who was fifth in the semi state a year ago. No. 10 Valparaiso, the champion of the New Prairie Regional, is the defending champ. The Vikings, however, graduated six of the seven runners who competed for them in 2012. Valparaiso won the semi state title a year ago with a team score of 45, while Warsaw was second at 60.
The semi state lineup also includes No. 17 Munster, No. 20 Crown Point and No. 24 Lake Central. Completing the field are Western, Kokomo, Rochester, Winamac, Lowell, Hobart, Lafayette Jeff, Frankfort, McCutcheon, Twin Lakes, LaPorte, Portage, Chesterton and New Prairie.
The action at New Prairie begins Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET.
The top six teams and the top 10 individuals not on an advancing team move on to the State Finals on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Sports Center in Terre Haute.