ELKHART – It was a statement day for the Warsaw cross country program. The boys, facing adversity as it will through the rest of the season, were a surprising runaway champion at the NLC Cross Country Championships at Ox Bow Park.
The Warsaw boys team figured to be near the top of the heap, but even coach Jim Mills had reservations on what his club could and would do. Losing their ace, Zeb Hernandez, a couple weeks ago to suspension left the team without a clear-cut ace. Warsaw showed it had plenty left in the tank as Mills was left nearly speechless trying to sum up his team’s 38-point win over Concord.
“We know now that in order for us to keep moving on, we have to close the gap,” stated Mills, pausing on a couple of occasions. “We lit it up today and the gap was closed. Even our little freshman (Sam Lechlitner), we’re counting on him now and he nearly came in under 17. To place all five in the top 15 without the all-state runner, that’s a testament to their ability and want-to. This is a very good group of runners.”
Warsaw’s 46 points had all five of its scorers within the top 15, led by Lucas Howett’s 16:25, third-place finish. Taylor Mills was five seconds behind for fifth, and both Xavi Ramirez and Justin Fleming crossed together at 16:46 and 16:47, good for 11th and 12th. Lechlitner gave Warsaw a fifth score of 15 with his impressive 17:03.
“I’m shocked that we were that far ahead of Northridge and Concord,” Mills said. “Granted, we had some great performances from guys like Lucas and Justin. Taylor has always had the ability to do what he did today, he runs with so much heart. But I think we have the ability to close the gap even more heading into the sectional.”
Concord finished at 84, Northridge at 85 and Wawasee at 87 in what should shape up to be a whale of a sectional battle next weekend back at Ox Bow.
The Warriors had Spencer Hare out front the entire race and battle Goshen’s Felix Perez Diener the entire run. Perez Diener grabbed a bit of a lead on the back stretch and maintained it down the chute, taking honors at 16:17 to Hare’s 16:23. Luke Griner gave Wawasee a solid second score at 16:39 for eighth overall. Michael Hammer (16, 17:06), Jace Alexander (27, 17:32) and Thomas Conley (34, 17:44) made up the Wawasee scores.
“I thought we had a bounce-back week after not running well (at the Culver Academy Invite),” said Wawasee head coach Chad Hoffert. “I think we can squeeze a little more out. I felt like the guys ran about as well as they could do. Hopefully, this gives them a little more confidence because a good meet like this can feed a little more for next week’s sectional. I think we are in good shape.”
NorthWood’s top output came from Tyler Evers, who was 14th with a time of 17:02. The Panthers placed seventh among the eight teams, besting Plymouth by 38 points.
Warsaw’s Hunter Thompson was the top male NLC finisher in the JV races Saturday morning, running 17:26, and was only bested by Penn’s Noah Cocquyt at 17:24. Eric Williamson was right behind Thompson at 17:38 and Jacob Kissling added a top-five at 17:44.
Warsaw will move onto the Culver Academy Sectional as the prohibitive favorite, having won the title there in each of the past five years in both boys and girls grids. Wawasee and NorthWood will compete back at Ox Bow in the Elkhart Central Sectional.