ELKHART – The kings and queens aren’t scurrying from the castle just yet, but unrest in the Northern Lakes Conference cross country kingdom could take place Saturday morning.
After Northridge’s stronghold over the conference for more than a decade, Warsaw finally muscled up the past three seasons and knocked the Raiders from the post in boys cross country. Warsaw will arrive at Ox Bow Park this Saturday as defending champion, but the Tigers will not enter the park as the 2014 NLC round robin champions as someone else has decided to make a run at the throne.
Goshen took the conference duals and triangles by storm this fall, running to a 7-0 mark including Tuesday night’s dramatic win against Warsaw, dropping the Tigers to 6-1 and leaving the defending champs only able to share the crown with a win Saturday. Gerardo Abad and Shawn Graves have given the Redskins a mighty one-two punch at the front and a well-developed pack of runners just off the pace have turned Goshen into a legit contender.
Warsaw, dealing with all sorts of health troubles this season, hasn’t fielded the usual top-heavy outfit the program has been accustomed to in recent years. Frontrunners Nick Bergen, Owen Glogovsky and Daniel Messenger have all missed time this season, and the Tigers have not been able to piece together a dominant lineup despite a gigantic pool of support numbering over three dozen in potential.
“I hope they redeem themselves after tonight,” said a stewing Jim Mills of his Warsaw boys program following the loss to Goshen. “With this team, I don’t know what to expect on Saturday. If we’re not careful Saturday, we could end up third or fourth.”
Wawasee has dealt with a lot of health problems this fall, as well, and paid for it in a 2-5 NLC mark. Zach Cockrill, while not on foot, dealt with an injured wrist in midseason and has yet to overwhelm the field in a conference dual. Cockrill, who missed state by one place at last year’s semi-state, should be motivated enough, and could bring a couple runners with him in the quest to return to glory.
Troy Carolus has given Wawasee a solid second runner, and even won his first-ever race in the dual with Warsaw. Jaxon Bame has emerged as Wawasee’s No. 3, but the Warriors have yet to build a firm pack of supporters behind the top three.
“Our kids should have a lot of confidence heading into Saturday,” Wawasee head coach Doug Slabaugh said following the triangular with Northridge and Concord Tuesday. “We ran well tonight and that’s what we want just before conference. The kids know they can, they just have to believe it.”
Look for upstart Elkhart Memorial, led by Spencer Dibley, and Northridge, paced by Conner Sandt, to also have a say in the finals.
The girls side of the NLC should have Warsaw and Northridge again feuding at the top of the standings sheet. Last year’s tiebreaker win by Northridge at Ox Bow was bittersweet for Warsaw, but both clubs were still able to forge a state finals appearance onto its résumés.
Warsaw enters Saturday ranked No. 7 in the state and already have a win in hand over the Lady Raiders to highlight its 7-0 round robin. The Lady Tigers were able to rest several of its stars Tuesday in the triangular win against Goshen and Memorial, including Allison Miller, Anna Craig and Hannah Dawson. The contributions from Claire Kehler, Mia Beckham, Brooke Rhodes and Hannah Thompson have only added to Warsaw’s dominance this season.
“We need to approach it with an all-business mentality,” said Warsaw girls coach Matt Campbell. “I know that Northridge will shine and drop times, but I expect us to do that, too. We need to show that this is our time and not a fluke.”
Northridge will look to claim a share of the title after a 6-1 round robin that had Morgan Blyly emerge as its ace. MacKenzie Adams and Briana Eggleston as well as Mariah King give the Lady Raiders a lot of options at the front.
Wawasee ran well in the NLC this fall, compiling a 4-3 mark with a core of its success coming from freshmen. Newcomers Aubrey Kuhn, Yanelly Pizana and Reagan Atwood have given seniors Sarah Harden and Courtney Linnemeier a nice compliment as a solid group. Molly Swartz and Elizabeth Zorn have also stepped forward to aid Wawasee’s push toward the top of the NLC.
“We had basically our entire team running PRs the final week of the season, and that’s exactly what I wanted,” Slabaugh said. “A good part of our team has run well the second part of the season. I think that will help us, and hope to see our kids charging down that hill at Ox Bow.”
Everyone in the NLC girls race may be chasing Memorial’s Brooke Moore, who has been fantastic this year and has the experience of a state run as a junior. Moore is the defending girls NLC champion and has shown she isn’t slowing down.
The NLC and the Northern Indiana Conference are again combining its events into one day of racing at Ox Bow. The NIC girls will run at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the NLC girls, the NIC boys and concluding with the NLC boys. There is an admission fee to the park and close parking is limited.