WARSAW – Ellis Coon may or may not win a cross country state championship Saturday.
Time will tell on that one.
The Warsaw star though says though that it’s a beautiful thing that he will be sharing the final race of his prep career with his teammates regardless of the final outcome.
“To be part of this team and this trip to State is so special to me,” said Coon. “It’s great to share it. These guys are like family to me. If I were going to state by myself, it would be a hollow feeling. I’m just glad to be where we’re at as a team.”
Coon and his teammates will toe the starting line at 1 p.m. Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.
The No. 9 Tigers earned a third straight trip to the State Finals with a second-place showing at the New Prairie Semistate Saturday. Coon was the semistate champion in a time of 15:45, beating his good friend Anthony Didion of LaPorte by outsprinting him down the stretch to win by 1.1 seconds.
“It’s cool to beat anyone to win a semi state, but to get to race head-to-head with a good friend like that was really cool,” said Coon.
Coon took a backseat much of the season a year ago to seniors Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy as Warsaw had the best campaign in program history, capped by a fourth place finish at the State Finals. Coon, who missed most of the track season due to a foot injury, has been the man this fall. He was eighth overall at State in 2012 and one of a handful of runners expected to be in the mix Saturday for the state title.
Coon has responded in a big, big way in the postseason. He had a tough stretch late in the season due to illness, including not running in the New Prairie Invitational and then struggling in the Culver Academies Invitational against some of the top runners in the state. Since then, he has won the NLC, sectional, regional and semi state titles.
“I feel great and ready to go Saturday,” Coon said. “The semi state race felt like a breeze to me. If I feel like that this Saturday, then the sky’s the limit. I feel confident and 100 percent.
“I feel like I’m back to normal and in the mindset again of a competitor and someone going after the win every race. Every race has been easier and easier for me since the NLC.”
Coon is one of 208 runners in the field looking for a state championship. The lineup includes six of the top 20 finishers from last year, led by runner-up Zachery Panning of Fort Wayne Concordia. Panning ran a 15:26 over the 5,000-meter course last year, while Coon finished in 15:41. Coon, Panning, Jackson Bertoli of Terre Haute South (who was fourth at state in 2012) and David Dalton of Greenwood were semi state champions. Coon won at New Prairie in 15:45, Panning at New Haven in 15:19, Bertoli at Brown County in 15:29 and Dalton at Carmel in 15:33.
“Zach is the favorite and he deserves it,” said Coon. “The nice thing is that I know how he runs. There are 6-7 guys in the same position as me.”
Coon knows Panning very well. The pair, along with Didion, were all on a recruiting visit to Temple at the same time earlier this fall. Coon has made a verbal commitment to run for the Owls next year.
Warsaw coach Jim Mills feels very confident about his star.
“There’s no question that Ellis is ready,” said Mills. “I was standing with my son at the two mile mark at the semi state and I told him Ellis would win when he past us. There’s still more there in him too.
“Ellis is one of a handful of guys capable of winning state. It’s who’s day it is on Saturday. Zach will take it out hard from the start and try to make everyone chase him. That’s the whole key to the race.
“Ellis is pretty confident right now and I think he feels good. I know my money is on him.”
Coon has said all season long that his goal is a state championship.
“It would be ridiculous to win State,” said Coon. “I’m not afraid to fail come Saturday. I want it as much as anyone in the state.”