SYRACUSE – The moment for a deserving Wawasee senior finally happened Tuesday night. And with a group of rivals chasing Troy Carolus, the taste of victory was a sweet one.
Carolus, who has autism, overcame big odds against an unlikely foe in a powerful Warsaw cross country team, winning the race at 17:18, a season-best run. The Tigers won the team meet by a narrow 27-32 score, but the buzz following the race was all about Carolus.
“They told me I finished first. That’s the first time I finished first,” Carolus said.
Carolus’ story has been an inspiring one. Having made huge strides this season, finishing a previous lifetime-best third in the NLC triangular last week at Memorial, Carolus finally took the next step. After near disaster at the turn on the homeward side of the course, where Carolus and race-leading Zach Cockrill missed the turn into the woods, both runners emerged in the final straightaway back in business.
In a burst at the end, Carolus broke in front of Cockrill and a trio of Warsaw runners to take the win by one second over Cockrill, who was second, and the trio of Warsaw pursuers. Carolus was thrilled with the win.
“I hope I do that at regionals,” Carolus stated to Wawasee head coach Doug Slabaugh following the race. “If I do that at regionals, do I get to go on to semi-state?”
Slabaugh responded with, “Yes, you do.” Carolus was good with that, offering a smile and was back to getting hugs and high-fives from the cross country family.
“What Zach did, what the Warsaw guys did, I think that was a class act,” Slabaugh said. None of the other four runners were in a hurry to fight Carolus at the finish, Cockrill providing the escort. “It’s more than just running, there are life lessons being learned. I think the end was awesome.”
Warsaw head coach Jim Mills shared a similar sentiment, but was cautious with his words given his kids didn’t check their surroundings at the line.
“I think it was a good gesture, no doubt about it, they just didn’t know what was behind them,” laughed Mills. “It could have been a couple of Wawasee guys. That could have been disastrous.”
Mills had good reason to be mixed about the finish. Showing true sportsmanship, Mills congratulated Carolus, but wasn’t pleased with his team’s placings when racing conversations resumed. Daniel Messenger and Jonathan Beres were third and fourth at 17:19 apiece with Jacob DeBoest next at 17:21. Wawasee’s Jaxon Bame placed sixth at 17:36, well off the frontrunners, and then a six-pack of Tigers came in.
Those six runners were important to the scoring, as they pinched out Wawasee’s Brady Robinson, who was 13th at 18:15, but only four seconds behind Eric Custer’s 18:11 in 10th place. It wouldn’t have changed the team winner, but would have made the points battle very interesting.
Warsaw raced without Nick Bergen and Owen Glogovsky, out with various issues, and Mills was happy to just get a win in one piece.
“We’re actually deeper this year than we were last year, but without a frontrunner like Ellis (Coon) like we has last year, we could be in trouble,” Mills said, whose team is 3-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference. “We don’t have a frontrunner right now. If we are healthy, we are very good. But right now, we’re not. Wawasee gave us a pretty good run for our money.”
Slabaugh has seen his team float in a similar boat, dealing with several injuries and illnesses this fall. On the mend, the Warriors (2-1 NLC) began that slow climb upward Tuesday, which Slabaugh noted throughout the meet.
“Guys are really having to learn roles on this team,” Slabaugh said. “Guys are being put in different positions and I think we’re coming along. It was a big step up today. Jaxon looked a lot better tonight. Troy has been awesome, every race has been a good race for him, and it showed again tonight. We had a lot of people step up tonight.”