WARSAW — Warsaw debuted its cross country teams at their home invitational Tuesday. Gone were the dominant finishes of last year, but the Tigers’ two young teams still earned some very respectable finishes behind a pair of strong championship teams.
The Lady Tigers finished second behind Mishawaka’s 45-point score, tallying a 70 alongside Bishop Luers but beating out the Knights on a tiebreaker, while the boys team collected its own runner-up finish with a score of 89 behind a dominant 23-point score by Homestead.
With a total of 20 sophomores and freshmen on this year’s squad, Warsaw boys coach Jim Mills was keeping Tuesday’s opener in perspective.
“We’ve got good sophomores, and I said before the start of the season that I wasn’t worried about the first half of the season. Given time, these guys are hard workers, and the potential is there,” he said.
“We’re going to be a work in progress. I’m not jumping ship yet,” he laughed.
Homestead slotted six runners in the boys’ overall top 10, including champion Ryan Ruppert, who broke the tape in 16:26. In fact, the Spartans’ top 10 had all entered the chute before any other team had gotten its top five across the line.
As his coach expected, sophomore Sam Lechlitner led the Tigers, clocking 17:36.5 for 13th place overall.
“I thought he went out too conservatively, and he knows it. We’ve already talked about it. He needs to work on that second mile. When I saw our other guys that were around him, they shouldn’t have been,” explained Mills.
“But like I said, he’s just one of these happy runners at practice, great attitude, always got a smile on his face; I don’t care how hard he works. So I guarantee you, by the time he graduates Warsaw High School he’s going to be one of the better runners to ever come out of this high school. That said, he knows he went out a little too conservative, and he’s going to work his way through all that.”
Slotting in just behind him was first-year Warsaw cross country runner Fernando Niebbia, who turned in a 17:55.5 stop for 18th place in a promising debut.
“Fernando Niebbia, this is his first year running cross country, so he has no clue what he’s doing,” Mills said. “This kid is another one that is going to be good by the time he’s done.”
The Tigers got a third runner in the top 20 when Jacob Kissling finished in 18:00.4 for 20th place. Tanner Stiver wasn’t far behind with an 18:15.9 time for 22nd, and Austin Fleming led a pack of Warsaw boys in 18:41.2, completing the Tigers’ team score with a 27th-place finish. Defending champion Zeb Hernandez finally returned from an almost year-long suspension but finished all the way back in 210th place after taking a fall during a wooded stretch early in the race.
“He took hard fall. we won’t know until tomorrow when he gets up. That’s all we don’t need,” said Mills of Hernandez.
As with Warsaw’s boys team, the Lady Tigers were paced by a young runner Tuesday.
Freshman Wini Barnett turned in a 19:01.7 time for ninth place.
“This will be my third year coaching Wini. She was a middle school runner of mine. I knew what to expect from her,” said first-year Warsaw girls coach Jason Fleming. “She’s a fierce competitor. But I think all of our girls have that capability and are very fierce competitors. She just rose out today. We don’t have any really run-away runners right now. It’s kind of a team mentality, so one day it’ll be this runner, and another day it’ll be another runner. I’m very proud of her and what she did, but I look for great things from the rest of the girls.”
Senior Megan Dawson placed 11th with a 19:21-flat time, while sophomore Adree Beckham finished 15th in 19:47.2, and then a pack of four Lady Tigers closed out the meet’s overall top 20. Angie Sanchez-Vijil finished in 19:53.9 for 17th place, Remi Beckham was 18th in 20:00.3, Amslie Howett placed 19th in 20:10.5, and Alexandra Herman was 20th in 20:12.3. Howett’s finish won Warsaw the tiebreaker with Bishop Luers, whose sixth runner placed 46th Tuesday.
“Now we’ve got to focus on, alright, these are the paces that we want to be running, and these are our pace setters,” said Fleming. “They were kind of feeling each other out today, I think, and now we know what training paces we need to put with who. I think we’re going to start to see that whole pack kind of move up together and close some of those gaps.”
Also at Tuesday’s meet, fellow Northern Lakes Conference squad NorthWood finished sixth in the girls race with a score of 170, while the Panthers’ boys team placed fifth with a score of 140.
“I’m very proud of our team. We have a young team, only senior right now in our top seven,” said NorthWood boys coach Justin Bell. “So for us to run that close together with such a young group is exciting going forward. They put in a lot of work over the summer, and for these young guys to see the fruit of that effort is exciting as a coach and very motivating for them.”
Tyler Evers set the pace for the Panthers in 17:46.2, good enough for 14th overall.
“Tyler Evers is our lone senior. He’s learning what it looks like to be our number one runner. He had to handle that position last year, so I think this year he’s approaching it with a little bit more confidence,” Bell said.
It was nearly a full minute before another NorthWood runner entered the chute, as Stephen Schmidt clocked 18:45.6 for 30th place. Sam Schlatter was 35th in 19:04.5, Brady Hunsberger turned in a 19:14.4 time for 42nd, and Eric Hochstetler’s 44th-place finish, which he earned in 19:15.8, completed the team’s score.
NorthWood’s girls were led by Jennifer Martinez and Hannah Brubaker in 33rd and 34th, respectively, with times of 20:45.2 and 20:46.8. Kailtin Burden finished in 21:14.4 for 42nd, Reese Barhydt was 45th in 21:33.4, and Laura Schrock was 47th in 21:41.9.
Manchester’s girls finished fourth with a score of 92, Tippecanoe Valley finished ninth in the race with a 256 score, and Whitko was 10th with a 290.
Jaelyn Webb finished 12th in 19:22.7 for the Lady Squires, while Kambree Cashdollar and Halle Briner were 21st and 22nd, respectively, in 20:14.4 and 20:22.1. Sydney Diefenbaugh placed 24th in 20:24 flat, and Katie Barker was 32nd in 20:42.5.
Valeria Jimenez was 40th for Valley in 21:08.3, Haley Hoover finished 65th in 2:281, Ava Craig placed 87th in 23:40.1, Lorena Santiago finished 90th in 23:54.5, and Marissa McLean finished 107th in a 24:57.6 stop of the clock.
Elizabeth Fouts led Whitko’s girls in 113th place with a 25:39.8 time, Amaya Norman and Amanda Leppek finished in 117th and 118th with respective times of 25:59.5 and 26:02.6, Laura Jackson was 131st in 31:01.8, and Rachel McGuin finished 137th in 35:40.6.
Manchester’s boys finished seventh in their race with a 186 score, Tippecanoe Valley was 10th with a 279, and Whitko finished 12th with a 339 tally.
Wilson Nettleton finished in 18:48.3 to lead the Squires, Ethan Davis was 37th in 19:06.5, Cade Jones was 80th in 20:35.1, Raice Martin was 117th in 21:26.7, and Jonathan Eberly finished in 129th with a 21:46.6 time.
Leading Valley was Matthew Howes with a time of 18:59.4 for 34th place, Mitchell Smith was 55th in 19:54.5, Chase Miller was 133rd in 21:53.9, Jace Holloway finished 143rd in 22:18.5, and Elijah Holder was 171st in 23:50.2.
Zack Freel finished in 57th in a time of 19:55.5 for Whitko. Jacob Porter entered the chute almost a minute and a half later with a 124th-place finish in a time of 21:38. Jayden Sratton was 161st in 22:55.6, Gavyn Alexander was 196th in 26:13.2, and Caden Compton was 199th in 26:27.4.