TERRE HAUTE – There is something to say about persistence. At a cutthroat New Prairie Semi-state, Warsaw’s girls cross country team kept its dreams of its best state finish alive while a Tiger sophomore is getting his second crack at the big stage.
Warsaw sophomore Zeb Hernandez got a taste of the good life last year, advancing to the IHSAA State Finals in his first year of high school cross country. After raising eyebrows as a freshman and placing top-three through the regional level, Hernandez qualified for state and eventually finished 52nd overall. Taking second overall last Saturday at New Prairie, running with champion Mitchell Rans of Caston throughout the last three weeks of competition, Hernandez took that next step.
Just being happy reaching the state level is now in the rearview mirror for Hernandez. Aiming for a top-20 finish and having the times to do it (a 15:55 at semi-state), the sophomore is primed to shoot for the podium.
“The plan will be to go with the leaders,” said Warsaw head coach Jim Mills of Hernandez’s prep. “Zeb went :58 at 400 (meters) and 4:47 at 1,600 and finished strong. He won’t be intimidated and he likes running out front. He knows he can go out hard and recover so no point laying back. He is shooting for top 15-20 and All-State recognition.”
Warsaw as a team did not make it out, finishing eighth and 21 points short of the top-six places for automatic qualifying.
Heading into the state finals, there are two boys currently boasting of sub-15 times from the semi-state races. Curtis Eckstein of Oldenburg posted an eye-popping 14:34 to win the Shelbyville Semi-state, the same race that saw Gabe Fendel of Hamilton Southeastern run a 14:46.
The Warsaw girls were impressive at New Prairie, taking third place in the team standings, and again, peppering the top of the race charts.
Mia Beckham continues to lead the Lady Tigers, running fourth at semi-state with her time of 18:38, 11 seconds off the championship pace of Jordyn Boyer of Lowell. Beckham, who as a sophomore placed 20th at the state finals, now a junior returns as one of the contenders in the girls state.
Warsaw has had its top three of Beckham, Allison Miller and Anna Craig add a fourth as Charlene Orr ran in stride with Miller at the semi-state. Largely the most improved runner for Warsaw, Orr could prove very valuable if Warsaw wants to podium as a team within the top 10, improving on its second-best finish of 12th last year. Warsaw placed 11th in 2011.
Warsaw’s pack of Angie Sanchez-Vigil, Megan Metzger and Emma Bohnenkamper all have given quality depth, but if rankings are indicative of team potential, Warsaw will have to jump three teams to make the top ten, coming into the final ranked 13th. All 24 of the teams at the state finals made the final poll, Valparaiso (7) and Lowell (12) finishing ahead of Warsaw at the semi-state, and West Lafayette (14) right on its heels.
“This Saturday is all about positioning and being at the right spots at the right time,” stated Warsaw girls cross country head coach Matt Campbell. “The state meet always get out fast, it’s very important our new girls don’t get caught up in the moment. Stay relaxed and focused.
“Right now we have one of the better front fours in the state,” continued Campbell. “We just need Mia, Allison, Charlene and Anna to put it all together on the same day. We have yet to do that.”
The IHSAA State Finals will take place at the LaVern Gibson course in Terre Haute, the girls race slated to begin at 1 p.m. with the boys race set for approximately 1:45 p.m.