ELKHART – A year ago, Wawasee was celebrating a cross country homecoming 30 years in the making. Saturday, Wawasee sat in disbelief as the cross country teams were both eliminated at the Elkhart Central Cross Country Regional at Ox Bow Park.
Wawasee’s cross country teams had both run in the semi-state a year ago, the first time that both clubs reached the third tier of the state tournament together since 1982. There would be no such feeling Saturday as the girls team shockingly slipped to ninth in the standings and the boys tied for sixth, but were not close to the fifth-place slot needed to advance to the New Haven Semi-state.
The Wawasee girls were more of the head scratcher of the two teams in not advancing. After placing third at last week’s sectional, the Lady Warriors scored 191 points, 24 points back of fifth-place South Bend Riley’s 167 points in the final advancing spot of the guaranteed top five.
Penn (26), Northridge (57), Mishawaka (107), Goshen (147) and Riley were the advancing girls teams. Mishawaka superstar Anna Rohrer dominated the Ox Bow course at 17:58 to win the race, outrunning Penn’s Madi Woods to the line at 18:05. The two girls are considered frontrunners to contend for the state title in two weeks.
Even more disappointing for the Lady Warriors was senior Sarah Harden, who was running in her first-ever cross country postseason, finished 11th among individuals on non-advancing teams, needing to be in the top 10. Vanessa Steiner of Concord, whom Harden had beaten three times this season, got Harden by two seconds at 20:49 to claim the final spot.
Wawasee head coach Doug Slabaugh, taking a long pause on his girls final placement, stated, “I’m still trying to figure out what happened. We were too far back the whole race. We’ve been in that situation almost all year. You get to this level and you won’t gain on schools like Penn and Northridge. We just got back behind a lot of runners and couldn’t recover.”
Harden’s 20:51 led the team, with Aubrey Kuhn (21:24), Yanelly Pizana (21:37), Elizabeth Zorn (21:44), Molly Swartz (22:08), Reagan Atwood (22:10) and Courtney Linnemeier (22:18) comprising the Wawasee times. Linnemeier’s season came to a disappointing end mired in injury as the senior went from pink Saucony to gray walking boot following the race to support a stress fracture suffered before the state tournament series.
The boys were a head scratcher of a more positive kind, tying Memorial for sixth place in points at 180, but grabbing sixth to themselves on a sixth-man tiebreaker. After being beaten by Memorial three times this season, and also by NorthWood (185) three times, Slabaugh was rather impressed in his boys.
“The guys, today was pretty cool. They can walk out of here with their heads held high,” Slabaugh said. “I thought we had a solid day. And I know we finished ahead of some teams I wasn’t planning on beating.”
Penn won the boys title with 73 points, edging Goshen’s 78 points and South Bend Riley’s 84 points. Mishawaka (103) and Northridge (107) claimed the final two team places for the semi-state next Saturday.
Northridge’s Conner Sandt was the champion again, adding a regional title to his Northern Lakes Conference and sectional titles this season. Sandt won at 16:01, with Riley’s Travis Kulczar second at 16:11.
Wawasee’s Zach Cockrill didn’t have his best race, even taking a fall at one of the turns about midway through the race, and slipped to 15th overall at 17:04. The placing was still good enough to advance to the semi-state based on non-advancing team qualifiers. Cockrill will get another crack at the IPFW cross country circuit next Saturday, where heartbreak left him two steps from a state appearance last year.
“When I fell on the course, I saw a bunch of people pass me and there were a couple moments there when bad thoughts were going through,” said Cockrill. “I just decided to keep racing, stay positive and things worked out.”
Wawasee had Troy Carolus run 17:38, Jaxon Bame at 18:00, Erik Diaz at 18:05, Sam Griner at 18:17 and Brady Robinson ran an 18:25 to give Wawasee the tiebreaker time on Memorial, beating Juan Paez’s 18:48. Stori Bright rounded out the Wawasee times at 20:14.
While the team is not headed to semi-state, Slabaugh feels good about how the overall group ran to conclude the team season.
“This was a really great way to end the season,” Slabaugh said. “Sure, I would have liked to run at semi-state, but we beat some quality teams, and we all ran very well. Not much else I could ask for.”
Cockrill will run at approximately 1:45 p.m. Saturday at the IPFW course in Fort Wayne as part of the New Haven Semi-state. Cockrill will have to be one of 10 individuals at the top of the list not on an advancing team to reach the state finals, which will take place Nov. 1 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.