CULVER — Another day, another title for Warsaw’s decorated cross country programs.
The Tigers didn’t let a weather delay at the start of Saturday’s Culver Academies Sectional get in their heads, nor did a hard week of practice derail the boys even though they weren’t at their very best. Warsaw’s teams each placed six inside the top 20 — including five in the top 10 for the girls — and were their usual dominant selves on the way to an eighth straight title for both squads. The Lady Tigers finished with a score of 34, while Manchester’s girls made the cut out to next week’s regional with a fourth-place score of 71 behind Rochester’s 70, and the Tigers put up a nearly-as-impressive score of 36 to top the pile in their race on a slightly soggy course winding through the Academies.
While it was the Lady Tigers’ eighth straight title, Saturday’s was the first for head coach Jason Fleming.
“I’ve been really blessed with the group that we have,” he said. “To be in that proverbial in-charge-of-the-bus kind of thing, it gives you time to reflect and really enjoy the accomplishments of the kids. It’s always about the kids, and if they win titles, that’s what I’m there for. I’m just hoping I can get them to where they can achieve that next level.”
The top five of the Warsaw girls lineup all finished within the field’s top 10. Adree Beckham and Wini Barnett finished in third and fourth, respectively, behind individual champion Mallory Hiatt of Rochester and CGA’s Alexis Allen, with times of 20:20.7 and 20:27.1, while Angie Sanchez-Vijil, Ava Knight and Amslie Howett were close behind, finishing in order in eighth through 10th with times of 21:16.6, 21:40 and 21:41.6. Even though she didn’t score for her team, Remi Beckham finished inside the top 20 in 19th place with a 22:31.2 time, and Alexandra Hermann finished just outside of ribbon contention with a 22:43.5 for 22nd place.
“Wini, when she passed me at the 4K and even at the 1K, she was our leader, and Adree was right there with her. Adree has got a little bit more experience, and she’s a true trackster and can really turn it on in that last 400,” said Fleming. “I thought both of them ran well. Regardless, they’re both happy for one another. I really don’t think they care who finishes in front of the other, just as long as they run well. And you can definitely tell that pack mentality. It’s a team mentality — who is going to step up? I thought the girls that finished eight, nine, 10 right there did exactly what we asked them to do.”
Warsaw’s boys were just slightly less dominant but more than up to the task Saturday.
Zeb Hernandez led a trio of Tigers, crossing the finish line in third place with a 17:24.2 stop after Plymouth’s Enrique Salazar barely out-kicked him for a 17:23.9 stop and runner-up honors behind Caston’s Mitchell Rans and his pace-setting time of 16:47 flat. Sam Lechlitner placed fourth behind Hernandez with a 17:34.6 stop, and Tanner Stiver finished fifth with a 17:51.8 time. Jack Horoho was 11th in 18:17.3, and Harrison Phipps was 13th in 18:29.1 to complete the Tigers’ scoring, but Fernando Niebbia also collected a top 20 ribbon with an 18:48.7 time for 17th place overall.
All in a day’s work for Warsaw’s boys, who were head and shoulders above the rest of the field despite not being at their best at the start of the IHSAA state series.
“It wasn’t our greatest runs,” said head coach Jim Mills. “Zeb threw up before the race, Harrison was sick after the race, but they ran well enough.”
Despite his team’s projected dominance at the race and the luxury of depth to play with, Mills put his team’s best foot forward at the start of the postseason with Jacob Kissling the only one of the Tigers’ top five sitting out Saturday’s race. Next weekend’s regional back at the Academies looks to be another foregone conclusion — the Tigers are looking for a seventh straight title in that round of the tournament, the Lady Tigers a sixth — but Mills is trying to get his group ready for the New Prairie Semi-State in two weeks, where possible state berths will be on the line.
“It’s good to be able to rest athletes, but it’s also good to run against some tough competition so you stay kind of sharp when you’re running. It works both ways — you rest up a little bit, but sometimes you hit the starting line after a couple weeks of maybe not running as hard as you’ve had to and you don’t have the legs,” he explained.
Manchester’s girls also punched their ticket to next Saturday’s regional run, just a point behind third-place Rochester and only three behind host CGA in what was a tight race for second place behind the Lady Tigers.
Torina Runkel clocked 21:03 for seventh place Jaelyn Webb and Halle Briner finished 12th and 13th, respectively, in 21:55 and 22:03, Kambree Cashdollar finished 16th in 22:14, and Katie Barker rounded out the Lady Squires’ top five in 23rd place with a 22:52 time.
“I think the girls ran well. We had a harder week this week anticipating that we would get out, but they responded well and still raced hard,” said Manchester coach Jody Sarber. “The times have got to be better next week, but I think they will be.”
While Manchester’s boys came up short of a top five finish, placing sixth with a score of 154 behind CMA’s 137, the Squires could console themselves with a trio of individual regional berths, reserved for the top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams.
Carter Bedke finished 14th in 18:30, while Wilson Nettleton and Reece Adamiec were 33rd and 34th, respectively, in times of 19:40 and 19:49 as all moved on to the next level of the tournament. Ethan Davis and Cade Jones finished within a tenth of a second of one other with respective 40th and 41st-place finishes in times of 20:19.1 and 20:19.4 as Manchester’s boys closed out their team season.
“We were hoping we had a shot for fifth, but a senior boy had a rough day. They raced hard,” said Sarber.
Tippecanoe Valley and Triton both put up scores of 171, but both teams had multiple runners punch individual tickets to regional.
Matthew Howes claimed the first of those tickets in ninth place with an 18:07 time for Valley, while teammate Mitchell Smith was 22nd in 19:07 as both qualified for spots on the regional start line. Justin Peconga placed 45th in 21:04, Jace Holloway was 50th in 21:44, and Chase Miller was 51st in 21:47.
Triton’s Russell Reichard finished 25th in 19:18, and Brandon Kitch was 29th in 19:25. Josiah and Jesse Page finished one and two places short of individual berths for the Trojans with respective 38th and 39th-place results in times of 19:59 and 20:08, while Breighton Treesh finished 49th in 21:33.
Valley’s girls wound up in eighth place in their race with a 200 score but advanced three individuals to regional. Valeria Jimenez was 32nd in 23:41, Haley Hoover placed 35th in 24:13, Ava Craig finished 44th in 25:06, and all moved on to next weekend’s run, Craig picking up the very last reservation for individuals from non-advancing teams. Lorena Santiago was 47th in 25:42, and Lauren Sponseller was 53rd in 27 minutes flat as both seniors closed out their careers with the Lady Vikings.
None of Triton’s three girls was able to survive in the tourney as Briana Wilhite placed 46th in 25:37, Makenna May was 50th in 26:32, and Anela Hill was close behind in 52nd place with a 26:38 stop.
ELKHART CENTRAL SECTIONAL
Both of Wawasee’s cross country teams advanced to the regional round of the state tourney Saturday, the Warriors collecting a third-place finish with 86 points, and the Lady Warriors grabbing the last team spot out to the regional back at OxBow Park with a fifth-place score of 126, well ahead of NorthWood’s sixth-place score of 140.
Spencer Hare clocked 17:06.18 to finish fourth overall, and Luke Griner was close behind in fifth place with a 17:09.48 to lead the Warriors. Michael Hammer finished 16th with a 17:36.77 time, Thomas Conley was 25th in 18:18, and Karlson Hand was 36th in 18:41.74 at the same course where Wawasee ran the Northern Lakes Conference Championships a week prior. As at the Culver Academies Sectional, thunderstorms delayed the Elkhart Central meet at the outset, but the Warriors didn’t allow it to shake them up.
“The delay in starting the race was a challenge for all teams. I was pleased with how we handled it. It showed mental toughness,” said head coach Chad Hoffert. “Spencer, Luke and Michael ran strong races like they did last weekend. Thomas, Karlson and Jace (Alexander) closed the gap like we had talked about doing. In a mock race based on last week we would have scored 97 points, and today we scored 86. Even though times were slower overall due to weather, that is improvement that I am looking for.”
McKenzie Smith paced the Lady Warriors with a 21:00.26 time, good enough for eighth place overall, while Emma Ebright finished in 15th with a 21:42.16 time, and Bailey Mayhew crossed the line just outside of the top 20 with a 22:14.81 time for 21st place. Cammy Kryder was 40th in a time of 22:57.76, and Lily Tyler was 42nd in 23:04.5.
“Always great to advance on to the next level in the state tournament,” said head coach Dough Slabaugh. “Proud of this young, inexperienced team. Over half our sectional roster is new to cross country this year.”
Meanwhile on the girls’ side at Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial took the team title with a score of 52 ahead of Elkhart Central’s runner-up score of 67. Northridge placed third with 81 points, and Concord was fourth with a 102-point tally.
The Lady Panthers came up short in their bid for a team regional berth, but four of their top five runners made the individual cut out. Hannah Brubaker finished 20th with a 22:08.54 time, Whitney Wolfe and Megan Miller were 27th and 28th, respectively, in 22:26.84 and 22:29.7, and Laura Schrock finished 31st in 22:36.21 in the second-to-last of the 10 spots reserved for individuals from non-advancing teams. Jennifer Martinez finished just a little over eight seconds outside of one of those spots with a 22:45.97 for 34th place.
Memorial also won Saturday’s boys race with a score of 61, while Goshen finished second just a point back. Elkhart Central was fourth with 98 points, and Concord finished fifth with a 110 score, while NorthWood’s boys finished their team season in sixth with a 119. Although the Panthers didn’t make a team cut, each of their top five advanced individually. Tyler Evers finished 13th in 17:32.61, Sam Schlatter placed 19th in 17:56.67, and Stephen Schmidt, Eric Hochstetler and Garrett Myers finished in order in 28th through 30th place with times of 18:29.92, 18:30.93 and 18:32.05.
Lakeland Christian Academy didn’t bring enough runners to score as a team, but David Plastow placed 59th in 20:45.91, and Sam Turner was 75th in 24:39.21 in their race.
NOTE: The original version of this story asserted that NorthWood’s boys could still score as a team at Saturday’s regional with five runners having advanced individually. Per IHSAA rules, however, they cannot without a top five team placement at sectional.