By TIM CREASON
NEW CARLISLE – The Warsaw boys cross country team is going through a rebuilding year, correct?
Somebody apparently forgot to tell the Tigers.
Senior team leader Ellis Coon outsprinted LaPorte’s Anthony Didion down the homestretch to claim the individual title, and Warsaw’s boys were a close second to West Lafayette during Saturday’s IHSAA semistate cross country meet at New Prairie.
While they may have graduated two of the strongest frontrunners in Warsaw history – Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy – last June, the No. 9-ranked Tigers picked up right where they left off a year ago. Using a tremendous pack attack to complement the first-place finish by Coon, Warsaw totaled 108 points.
No. 4 West Lafayette, with three runners among the top 25 finishers, scored 89.
Defending champ Valparaiso slipped to third with 128, while Crown Point was fourth.
Now, it’s on to the state meet, where the No. 9-ranked Tigers hope to show the rest of Indiana that they didn’t rebuild, they reloaded. The IHSAA finals begin 1 p.m. next Saturday at the Wabash Valley Sports Center in Terre Haute.
“We’re really, really happy,” said Warsaw coach Jim Mills. “I won’t hide the fact that we’ve never won a semistate in the history of Warsaw cross country, and that’s what we were hoping for, but hey, we got beat by a good team.”
At the front of it all was Coon, who appears completely recovered from the physical ailments that dogged him through September.
“I was definitely working out the kinks in September,” said Coon, who missed a huge meet on New Prairie’s famed 5,000-meter course earlier this season, due to illness. “The conference meet (in early October) was the first time I felt like I was on the road to recovery. Now, I can say with confidence that I feel like I did when I set a school record (during track season.)”
Ironically, Coon found himself locked in a tight battle with one of his running buddies, LaPorte’s Didion, as the race neared its end. The two had discussed race strategies during the week before.
“We knew that Cooper (West Lafayette’s Cooper Williams) was going to be in it, right at the front,” said Didion. “So we were just going to try and drop him before the homestretch and make it come down to a kick at the end.”
That’s pretty much what happened, as the pair flew down the homestretch side by side, ahead of everybody else. Didion threw in a surge, but Coon immediately responded and pulled a step ahead. He raised his arms in victory as they approached the finish line.
Coon clocked 15:45.5, Didion 15:46.6, both impressive times given the cold, blustery wind that blew throughout the day.
“After we made (the last turn), I saw it was just Anthony and I, so I waited for him to make his move,” said Coon. “When he went, I went.”
Barely 45 seconds after Coon finished, Warsaw got a tremendous pack finish from Tyler Houvener, Owen Glogovsky and Daniel Messenger, who finished 26th, 28th and 29th, respectively.
They clocked 16:35.8, 16:36.4 and 16:36.5.
“I knew at the two-mile mark that Ellis had a lot in the tank. I knew he was going to win that race,” said Mills. “Then we had three guys who were within two seconds of each other. That was great.”
Nick Bergen’s 47th place closed the Warsaw scoring, but Jonathan Beres added a 91st and Jacob DeBoest was 115th.
It was a great finish for a bunch of semistate newcomers.
“I told the kids when we started practice that I fully expect them to be as good as the previous team,” said Mills. “We had the kids to do it. It was just going to be a different makeup of the team.”
The top six teams at a semistate advance to the state meet. Also advancing are the top 10 individual runners who are not members of a qualifying team.
IHSAA CROSS COUNTRY SEMISTATE
At New Prairie High School, New Carlisle
Team scores: West Lafayette 89, Warsaw 108, Valparaiso 128, Crown Point 141, Lake Central 161, Munster 181, LaPorte 182, Lowell 248, Chesterton 248, Hobart 265, Portage 276, Frankfort 336, New Prairie 348, Western 349, Lafayette Jefferson 375, McCutcheon 384, Kokomo 392, Winamac 410, Rochester 430, Twin Lakes 521.
TOP 25 FINISHERS: 1, Ellis Coon (Warsaw) 15:45.5. 2, Anthony Didion (LaPorte) 15:46.6. 3, Cooper Williams (West Lafayette) 15:50.1. 4, Ryan Kritzer (Munster) 15:55.2. 5, Brian Blaylock (Lowell) 15:57.6. 6, Ari Coulopoulos (Valparaiso) 16:02.2. 7, Robert Duke (Eastern-Greentown) 16:09.5. 8, Matt Grider (Western) 16:11.6. 9, Tyler Gray (Crown Pt) 16:12.2. 10, Matthew Fahs-Brown (Manchester) 16:12.9. 11, David Kampf (New Prairie) 16:15.9. 12, Jeremy Breedlove (Kokomo) 16:19.0. 13, Brent Dunn (Hobart) 16:19.0. 14, Jake Cohen (West Lafayette) 16:23.0. 15, Zach Hupp (Lake Central) 16:24.4. 16, Tommy Bolanowski (Munster) 16:25.2. 17, Andrew Jankowski (Valparaiso) 16:25.7. 18, Ryan Kepshire (Crown Pt) 16:26.7. 19, Salvador Cordova (Hammond Noll) 16:27.5. 20, Tyler Kramer-Stephens (Lake Central) 16:28.2. 21, Cody Bray (Frankfort) 16:29.1. 22, Mitch Wilborn (Chesterton) 16:29.4. 23, Joel O’Shea (Wheeler) 16:31.5. 24, Akis Medrano (Benton Central) 16:32.5. 25, Evan Johnson (West Lafayette) 16:34.4.
OTHER WARSAW RUNNERS: 26, Tyler Houvener 16:35.8 … 28, Owen Glogovsky 16:36.4 … 29, Daniel Messenger 16:36.5 … 47, Nick Bergen 17:00.1 … 91, Jonathan Beres 17:35.5 … 115, Jacob DeBoest 17:48.2.