GOSHEN — Orange and black are two colors that are synonymous with the month of October. So, it was fitting that the first day of October this year was all about the Orange and Black. The Warsaw boys and girls cross country teams were the teams to beat at Saturday’s Northern Lakes Conference Championships held at Ox Bow Park.
The girls team defended their regular season championship and earned an outright title by taking first overall while the boys forced a overall co-championship with regular season winner Northridge after winning Saturday’s race. After Warsaw, the final team standings in both races was identical with Northridge in second, Concord third and Wawasee fourth.
The girls race started the day for the varsity squad. Tiger duo Mia Beckham and Allison Miller led the whole way and finished within fractions of a second of each other. Beckham was crowned conference champion after running a 19:30:73. Miller clocked in at 19:30.86. Charlene Orr was the third and final top five finalist for the Tigers with her time of 19:52.54. The top seven individuals earn All-NLC honors, the remaining spots are voted on at a later date.
Angie Sanchez-Vijil placed eighth for Warsaw at 20:13.12. Megan Metzger clocked in at 20:38.74, good enough for 14th. Lauren Orr was 21st with a time of 21:21.87. The help on the back end from Warsaw’s runners is what grabbed head coach Matt Campbell’s attention.
“It wasn’t a perfect day for us,” Campbell began. “But the other teams didn’t seem to run as well either The course must have been a little slow. I liked where we were at position wise. Angie Sanchez and Megan Metzger really stepped up for us today. I didn’t expect them to be our four and five, that was huge and it probably put the race away for us. I’m pumped about them. We’ve got things to work on but we’re getting there.”
Wawasee was ecstatic about its times and had some big races out of its girls. Elizabeth Zorn and Kenzie Smith paced the Warriors, respectively finishing 11th and 12th overall. Zorn ran a 20:25.94 while Smith was not too far behind with a 20:35.88.
The biggest race of the day for the Warriors came out of Lila Gregory. The freshman clocked a personal record of 21:49.86. That time placed Gregory 24th overall, just ahead of teammate Aubrey Kuhn who was 25th (21:52.04).
“Up front our front two did what they needed to,” began Wawasee girls head coach Doug Slabaugh. Lila Gregory, though. Not only did she run a season best, she ran a heckuva race. That’s what we’ve been harping on all year, when knew she had it in her. That was a huge difference for us.
“Aubrey had a great day, a bounce-back day. Valeria (Pizana) had a great day. We had a great JV meet as well, I don’t want to leave those girls out. Today was our best meet of the year.”
Pizana (22:02.73), Bailey Schroeder (22:36.30) and Katie Haines (22:29.72) rounded out Wawasee’s times.
On the boys side, Warsaw was happy to grab a share of the conference title. The Tigers lost on a sixth-man tiebreaker during the regular season dual with Northridge and avenged that with their performance on Saturday.
Zeb Hernandez paced the field as he finished comfortably ahead of everyone else. The sophomore earned his conference title with a time of 16:21.94. Lucas Howett took second for the Tigers when he crossed the finish line at 16:42.27. Xavi Ramirez took sixth overall with a time of 16:55.66. Nathaniel Gottschalk (17:19.31) placed 13th while Taylor Mills (17:46.95) took 23rd. Justin Fleming (18:10.18) and Ridley Lemon (18:14.75) rounded out the times for the Tigers.
Warsaw head coach Jim Mills was happy his team came back to earn a share of the title, but has already pinpointed what needs to be improved before the sectional.
“Our fifth runner needs to be our fourth runner,” Mills stated. “We’ve still got that gap and we knew it would take time with this team. We’re slowly learning. Right now our usual fifth runner is up where we want him but our normal fourth runner needs to get up where he belongs. He does what he needs to in practice, he’s just not getting there in the race. One he gets there, we’re going to be in great shape. He just needs one good race and we’ll be good to go.”
The Wawasee boys team was just as pleased as the girls team was after a strong showing.
“Our top two ran very well at the front,” said Wawasee boys head coach Chad Hoffert. “They both had top 10 finishes and they ran in control of the race, which is what we wanted to see. We had a good race out of Sam (Griner). Ben (Hoffert) had an injury this week and took a few days off, he didn’t run awful today but I expect to see him bounce back for us at the sectional.
“Thomas Conley, a freshman, ran his best race of the year. Braxton Alexander returned for us for his first race this year and ran JV and did great. I felt like, overall, we ran as well as we have all year as a team.”
The Warriors earned two All-NLC spots with Luke Griner and Spencer Hare each clocking top seven times. Griner was fifth overall with a time of 16:54.84 while Hare took seventh with a 16:56.40.
Sam Griner took 21st overall after running a 17:44.93. Bennett Hoffert (18:33.15), Conley (18:56.18), Isiah Faurote (19:26.89) and Brandon Kidd (20:07.71) rounded out Wawasee’s times.
Wawasee will return to Ox Bow next Saturday for the sectional meet while Warsaw heads to Culver Academy for its sectional run. Coach Mills offered commentary on the difference in the two courses.
“It’s a wide open course,” Mills stated. “It’s easy to watch who is around you. You don’t really lose other runners because of the long straightaways and big turns. Here at Ox Bow it’s sharper turns and you have a lot of wooded areas. It’s similar time wise, it’s just a more open course and I think that will help our team.”
Warsaw’s Carmen Yoder was first in the girls JV race with a time of 20:32.15. Alexander took second in the boys JV race for Wawasee with his time of 18:01.04.