WARSAW – It does happen every once in a while where undefeated teams match up in a random draw on the last day of the season with conference honors on the line.
Try five teams without a blemish on two sides of a table.
All three teams in the final girls round robin matchup happened to come into the meet undefeated at 5-0. The boys also had a showdown of two undefeated teams going head-to-head for title rights.
Warsaw, Elkhart Memorial and Northridge all have their success stories in the historical cross country pantheon of the Northern Lakes Conference. What Warsaw had in the girls race was a speedy pack while Memorial had outstanding frontrunners in the boys race. Both led to undefeated NLC records ahead of the conference championships in 11 days.
Warsaw’s pack in the girls race had all five of the pack come in with near succession to wedge out Memorial, 23-37, and also trump Northridge, 24-35. Memorial’s Morgan Dyer won the girls race, and that ‘1’ on the sheet was important in a 26-30 score over Northridge for a key split.
Memorial’s boys were able to bring home all five of its scorers before Warsaw got in its fourth, which played out to a 22-35 Charger win over the Tigers and the grip to at least half the trophy. Memorial went on to beat Northridge handily, 18-44, as did Warsaw, 19-41, over the Raiders.
The three undefeated teams on the girls side made for quite a setup to the race. Dyer didn’t waste any time bolting to the front of the group at the starting gun, a place she’ll likely be several more times in the weeks ahead. The optics of the start, however, had Northridge with just seven in their mini huddle before the start, while Warsaw threw out its complimentary 32 varsity and JV runners. Whether it affected places among the Ridge runners getting wedged between Warsaw JV leaders or not, that will rest within the wind of the woods on either side of the Logan Street course.
“I have no clue, maybe it’s a strategy looking at something for the conference meet further down the line. I have no idea,” said Warsaw girls coach Jason Fleming on Ridge’s varsity-only lineup.
Dyer had absolutely no trouble winning the race at 19:32, a full 34 seconds ahead of Warsaw’s Wini Barnett, who left teammate Adree Beckham on the final stretch to take second to Beckham’s third at 20:12. Memorial had Gabby Scott come in next and Ridge brought in three led by Allison Bache’s 20:25 to make it interesting. Warsaw then poured it on in a fashion that has looked oh, so familiar in recent years. Ava Knight, Remi Beckham, Megan Dawson and Amalie Howett all came through the finish within 13 seconds of each other and without an opponent obstructing the black shirts.
“We had a plan, we had different groups of girls set for different tempos, different aspects of the race,” Fleming said. “Those girls knew who they were. Those girls knew where they needed to be at each K. They knew who from the opposing teams they needed to focus on. Maybe not by name, but by number. There was a method to the madness. What I really like about the tri-way meets is we throw everybody out there. Everybody has put in the same amount of work. Everybody is working hard. You may not be the fastest one, but you should have the right to toe the line with everybody else and go.”
The posturing at the two-mile mark and on through the final mile won and lost the boys race. The Chargers and Tigers had plenty of representation running together heading through the back half of the course, but sprints to the end gave Memorial the edge.
Warsaw’s Zeb Hernandez continued to return to form, taking the race at 16:39, beating Neil Terrell to the line going away. Terrell, however, was leading a charge of ponies – four, in fact – coming home within 20 seconds of each other. Terrell at 16:51 had teammates Hazeal Morales, Abdessamed Boussaha and Daniel Brown all finish ahead of Warsaw’s runner-up, Tanner Stiver in his dead sprint to the line at 17:11. Sam Lechlitner gave Warsaw a third, but Memorial’s Juan Cepero returned before two Tigers could get there, keeping the donut on the Chargers’ ‘L’ line.
“We knew it was going to be close,” said Warsaw boys head coach Jim Mills. “We still have the heart of our team are sophomores. Fernando (Niebbea), this is his first year of cross country. So they are still figuring it out and getting confidence.”
Warsaw’s fourth and fifth ended up being Jacob Kissling and Jack Horoho.
Mills stood firm that his team’s 6-1 NLC mark wasn’t simply about being Warsaw and reloading, but because of the leadership out of Horoho and Anthony Bass, two seniors that are doing more than just figuring into meet statistics.
“Those guys are leaders, and they have steered our team to where we are at right now,” Mills said of the two seniors. “We’re going to go into the NLC, and I’ll tell them ‘you just keep running the way you’ve been running and we’ll come out OK.’ We can still tie, all we have to do is beat Memorial.”
The NLC Championships at OxBow on Sept. 29 will have Memorial’s boys at 7-0 and in the driver’s seat, with Warsaw at 6-1 and needing to win the meet or have Memorial fall in the standings to split. Goshen will come in 5-2 after beating both Concord and Wawasee at Shanklin Park Tuesday; Concord sits at 4-3. Northridge’s boys, after the two losses Tuesday, will enter the Championships at a shocking 0-7 after years of owning the NLC. The Warsaw girls will have the edge at 7-0, with Memorial at 6-1 and Northridge at 5-2, all three still very much in play for the postseason title.