WARSAW – Jim Mills believes his Warsaw boys cross country team still has a big race left in them.
The No. 9 Tigers have one final chance for it come Saturday on the state’s biggest stage.
Warsaw, led by individual champion hopeful Ellis Coon, is one of 24 teams taking part in the State Finals in Terre Haute. The boys’ race begins at 1:45 p.m. at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
“I think a top 10 finish would be pretty satisfying,” said coach Mills. “We’ll find out if we have enough horses. No one really ran spectacular for us at the semi state. I know there’s certainly more there for our top four guys and if we put together one big race who knows.”
The Tigers, led by champion Coon, were second in the New Prairie Semistate last Saturday. Warsaw is making its third straight State Finals appearance and was fourth in 2012 behind All-State runners Coon, Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy.
Warsaw, despite a thin roster due to graduation and some runners opting not to compete this season, has thrived once again this fall with a host of new faces making huge contributions. The trio of senior Coon, junior Daniel Messenger and sophomore Owen Glogovsky are the lone runners back from last year’s State lineup.
“Nick (junior Nick Bergen) has come out of nowhere for us and been a huge part of our success,” noted Mills.
Senior Tyler Houvener as stepped forward to be a key man for the Tigers. Houvener did not run at the semi state or at State a year ago. He was fourth and sixth overall this year as Warsaw won the sectional and regional championships. Houvener was 26th at the semi state in 16:35.
“Tyler’s always had the talent,” said Mills. “The difference this year is that his commitment level skyrocketed. He’s learned what commitment is and shown up and done it. His impact has been large for us.
“Tyler is a great kid. I love being around him. He’s always got a smile on his face. He ran a great race at the semi state with a lot of effort.”
Houvener is happy that his final season has been a strong one.
“I kind of expected to run like this, but I’m a little surprised to be one of the top guys on the team,” said Houvener. “It’s been different to be at the front, but I like it. It’s so satisfying and nice being part of the win instead of just watching.
“I’ve felt more committed this year, but I’m not sure why. Our 4 X 800 relay team lost in the sectional (finishing fifth and missing out on a regional berth) during track season and that felt terrible. I wanted to make the most of my senior year.”
Houvener, who is dealing with a painful hip injury, credits Coon for being a big influence on him.
“I look up a ton to Ellis and he’s a great leader,” Houvener said. “State is really important to us. This is the moment we’ve been waiting all season for. I want to make the most of it and show what I’m made of. My goal Saturday is to push through the pain. I have to do it. I want to get a personal best.”
Mills will go with a lineup of seniors Coon, Houvener and Ryan Goon, juniors Messenger and Bergen and sophomores Glogovsky and Jonathan Beres for the final race of the season.
No. 1 Carmel, the defending champion, and No. 2 Columbus North are expected to be competing for the championship. The two powerhouses have combined to win 17 state titles, including the last five.