The 2014 IHSAA cross country postseason is here, and runners from all over the state are starting to taper and really worry about those stopwatches.
Sectional championships will be on the line Saturday as boys and girls teams will take to the 5,000-meter courses in the official beginning march to the state finals.
The Culver Academy Sectional will house four of the area programs, one of which has big plans for the state tournament. Lakeland Christian Academy, Tippecanoe Valley, Triton and Warsaw are all part of the 12-team field in Marshall County, but Warsaw will likely have the final say in the standings.
Warsaw is primed and ready for a deep run in the tournament, having finished runners-up in the Northern Lakes Conference championships last week. But the Tigers and Lady Tigers are the big fish in the small pond at Culver, and should not be challenged to defend their sectional team titles. The Warsaw boys will be very hungry after a disappointing finish at the NLC, as will the girls after a near miss a week ago at Ox Bow Park to rival Northridge.
“The guys showed what they can do, so I’m not worried about ability,” said Warsaw boys head coach Jim Mills. “The sectional gives us a chance, that if we need to rest a couple guys, we can do that. If Owen (Glogovsky) isn’t feeling the greatest, I won’t even race him. That is the positive part of going to Culver for the sectional and the regional.”
Added Warsaw girls coach Matt Campbell, “The next week or two will be about letting some girls fill in and get some opportunities to run. We want to see who are solid five to seven runners are, for semi-state and, hopefully, state. It’s not made to sound cocky, but semi-state is really our focus right now.”
Warsaw’s boys should run away with the title. Led by Daniel Messenger, Owen Glogovsky and Jonathan Beres, the Tigers should pepper the top 10 places on the finals sheet.
Warsaw’s girls will likely also have an easy go of things at Culver, with Anna Craig, Hannah Dawson and Allison Miller all having very good NLC races.
Both Triton and Valley have good chances to advance individuals with Jesse Floor of Valley and Derek Johnston of Triton both having good seasons on the boys side and Bailey McIntire of Triton and the Viking duo of Karla Kitch and Courtney Burns leading the girls in green and gold.
Wawasee is hoping to interrupt the battle of Elkhart County at the Elkhart Central Sectional at Ox Bow Park. With 10 of the 11 teams from Elkhart County, Wawasee’s Kosciusko home is the lone outsider, but should break the top five of each race.
The Warriors have been led all season by Zach Cockrill, who is on a mission to reach for the first time in his career after a heartbreaking miss at the semi-state a year ago. Troy Carolus has given Wawasee a solid second runner, and Jaxon Bame has stepped into the three.
Wawasee’s girls have a one-two punch of Courtney Linnemeier and Sarah Harden, but are looking for a third to step forward from a pool that includes Aubrey Kuhn, Elizabeth Zorn and Molly Swartz.
Northridge and Goshen will likely contend for the title in both races, but Wawasee, Concord, Jimtown and Fairfield could all have a say in the standings, as well.
“Running the NLC here (at Ox Bow) really helps us with race strategy,” said Wawasee head coach Doug Slabaugh. “Getting our younger kids on the course helps get a look at some of the hills and places where you can make some moves. You can only explain so much, being on the course and running it certainly will help us.”
Whitko is looking to make a move at the super-competitive Fort Wayne Northrop Sectional. While the Wildcats will probably not factor into the team advancement, there are a handful of runners from South Whitley that can make a run at the individual race qualifiers.
Josh Wright on the boys side and the pair of Brigit Nemitz and Michelle Kelsey for the girls have all had solid seasons and have times that can compete with the best.
The Culver Academy Sectional will begin at 10:30 a.m., the Elkhart Central Sectional at 10 a.m. and the Fort Wayne Northrop Sectional at 10:30 a.m. The top five teams and the top 10 individuals from a non-advancing team at each sectional will move onto the regional rounds. Elkhart Central, Culver Academy and West Noble are hosting the regionals from the corresponding sectionals.