GOSHEN – What a difference a year makes.
Just ask the semistate-bound Wawasee boys cross country team.
The Warriors, who did not advance past the sectional round of the state tournament series in 2015, punched their ticket to the semistate on Saturday.
Wawasee used a gutsy effort to take the fifth and final semistate qualifying spot in the Elkhart Regional field at Ox Bow Park.
The Warriors will be joined at the New Haven Semistate at IPFW next Saturday by the Wawasee ladies team. The Wawasee girls also placed fifth Saturday and it’s the first time since 2013 and just the second since 1986 that both squads are headed to the semistate in the same season.
No. 16 ranked Penn, with the top three finishers overall in the race, dominated to capture the team championship for the third year in a row with a score of 27. Northridge was a distant second at 116, followed by South Bend Riley (125), Concord (133) and Wawasee (133). Goshen was sixth at 140.
Wawasee was sixth at the Elkhart Sectional a year ago, missing a regional berth by one spot.
It was a different story this time around as the Warriors were all smiles while posing for team photos for parents and friends following their fine effort.
“We ran well enough today,” said Wawasee coach Chad Hoffert. “Not as well as last week (when the Warriors placed third in the sectional at Ox Bow), but like I told our guys today was less about the times and more about the bodies. Our times, on average, were about ten seconds slower than at the sectional. But we needed guys to get spots and that’s what they did.
“We knew that it was going to be tight and thought we could be from fourth to seventh coming into today, The guys just ran gutsy. They kept pushing. You could see it in their eyes. I’m just very proud of them. We finalized our goals in August and making it to semistate was the final one.”
Sophomore Spencer Hare was the lead man for the second straight week for the Warriors. Hare, who was sectional runner-up, hit the finish line fifth overall at the regional in a time of 16:45.04.
Sophomore Luke Griner, who had an outstanding kick down the stretch to pass several other competitors, finished eighth overall in a time of 16:53.59.
“Spencer and Luke were great at the top for us again today,” noted Hoffert.
Senior Sam Griner was the third Warrior to cross the finish line as he placed 39th overall in 17:38.14. Sophomore Braxton Alexander was 47th in a time of 17:54.95 with sophomore Ben Hoffert 55th in 18:09.04, freshman Isiah Faurote 83rd in 19:26.76 and freshman Thomas Conley 90th in 25:12.23.
“Sam, Braxton and Ben all ran tough mental races today,” said Hoffet. “Isiah ran tough and Thomas just gutted it out as he ran hurt today.”
“Last year, with three guys here (Luke Griner, Sam Griner, Ben Hoffert) at the regional they got a taste of it. This year, they made the commitment as a team and it paid off for them.”
Penn junior Jonathan Harley was the individual regional champion with a top time of 16:29.07.
Colton Shail of the Kingsmen was second in 16:37.98 with Matthew Long of Penn third in 16:39.43. Landon Miller of Fairfield, who was the champion of the Elkhart Sectional last weekend, was fourth in a time of 16:40.84. Hare was fifth with Hunter Moore of Northridge sixth (16:45.71), Trevor Miller of Elkhart Christian Academy seventh (16:50.84), Luke Griner eighth, Jason Barahona of Goshen ninth (16:54.31) and Nolan O’rourke of South Bend Riley tenth (16:54.46).
Mishawaka was seventh in the final team standings with a score of 145. South Bend St. Joseph was eighth (186), Elkhart Christian Academy ninth (190) and South Bend Adams tenth (223).
The top five teams and the top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams will compete in the New Haven Semistate slated to be run at IPFW next Saturday. The boys race is scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m.
“Next week is a day to be enjoyed,” noted Hoffert. “We want to be prepared physically and mentally to go and compete at our best level and the results will take care of themselves.
“I have no idea in terms of expectations. It’s the next step in the process for us in moving the program forward. It’s something to be enjoyed by these guys and an experience for them to learn from.”