GOSHEN – Wawasee girls cross country coach Doug Slabaugh admitted to being a little nervous Saturday prior to the final team standings being read at the Elkhart Regional.
It turned out that his nerves would turn to excitement in the end.
The Warrior ladies, led by its strong 1-2 combination of Kenzie Smith and Elizabeth Zorn, captured fifth place among the 10-team field at Ox Bow Park.
Wawasee, which was 10th at the regional a year ago, earns a spot in the New Haven Semistate next Saturday at IPFW.
The Wawasee boys also placed fifth to earn their own semistate berth, the first time since 2013 that both teams have advanced and just the second time since 1986.
No. 3 ranked Penn, which placed four runners in the top 10 including individual champion Lauren Frank, captured the regional crown for the third time in the last four years with a team score of 36. No. 24 Northridge, which won the regional crown a year ago, was second at 45 with Concord third (104), South Bend Adams fourth (133) and Wawasee fifth (150).
“It’s definitely a very exciting time for us today,” said Slabaugh following the postrace awards session. “Our goal all year was to get to the semistate. It’s a big mark for the program. I think that it’s just the fourth time the girls team has made it to semistate.
“It’s just a testament to the girls for all the hard work they put in all summer. They are the ones who did this. It’s just a fun day and a cool opportunity for them.”
Sophomore standout Smith led the way for the Warriors as she placed 11th overall in a time of 20:00.05. Senior stalwart Zorn was just two spots behind her teammate in 13th place in 20:04.91. Smith was fifth overall with Zorn sixth at the sectional last weekend.
Junior Aubrey Kuhn was 43rd overall in 21:35.73 with freshman Valerie Pizana 49th in 21:42.63 and freshman Lila Gregory 61st in 22:12.49 to round out the scoring for Wawasee. Senior Bailey Schroeder placed 68th in 22:30.97 and freshman Katie Haines was 71st in 22:36.44.
The quartet of Zorn, Kuhn, Smith and Schroeder ran for the Warriors in the regional a year ago.
“We didn’t run as well (as fast) as we did last week at the sectional here,” said Slabaugh, whose team placed third at the Elkhart Sectional at Ox Bow last Saturday. “But the meet today was not as fast as the sectional.
“Our 1 and 2 (Mackenzie and Elizabeth) were okay place wise for us. Valeria Pizana would have been our runner of the meet. She had a personal best time today. And so did Katie Haines too.”
Frank, a junior, was dominant in winning her individual title for the champion Kingsmen. She hit the finish line in 19:05.73, well ahead of runner-up Mariah King of Northridge (19:20.62). Hannah Yeakey of Bethany Christian was third (19:35.07), followed by Faith Quintana of Mishawaka (19:39.34), Mckenzie Love of Northridge (19:41.32), Lorena Daugherty of Penn (19:42.84), Danielle Spring of Penn (19:44.05), Ellie Jankowski of Penn (19:45.36), Jenna Miller of Northridge (19:54.84) and Erica Stutsman of NorthWood (19:59.37) to round out the top 10.
NorthWood was sixth in the final team standings at 157. Mishawaka was seventh (175), with Mishawaka Marian eighth (192), Elkhart Central (198) ninth and Bremen (213) tenth.
The top five teams and the top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams move on to compete at IPFW next Saturday. The New Haven Semistate will begin with the girls race at 1 p.m. The top six teams and the top 10 individual from non-advancing teams there earn a spot in the State Finals in Terre Haute on Oct. 29.
“Next week it’s about how many teams we can beat,” said Slabaugh looking forward to the semistate. “It’s about going there and gaining experience that we can help to sustain the success that we have had.”