SYRACUSE — With Wawasee cross country hosting Plymouth and Northridge in a Northern Lakes Conference-opener Tuesday, Lady Warriors coach Doug Slabaugh wanted to see his runners start strong with a win over the Pilgrims, then let the chips fall where they may against the stronger Raiders squad.
Wawasee’s girls came up short of Ridge, 18-41, but got that win over Plymouth by a 23-36 score on senior night in Syracuse. The Warriors came up short in both legs of their triangular by identical 19-42 margins, while the Pilgrims topped the boys’ standings with a 23-34 win over the Raiders, and Northridge’s girls topped their three-way pile with an 18-43 win over the Lady Pilgrims.
“It’s always good to get a conference win. That was the key coming into today — get one and see what we can do,” said Slabaugh. “And we did that. It’s good to get that win. Anytime you can get a conference win, you take it.”
Sophomore Emma Ebright led much of the way but was ultimately passed within the race’s final kilometer by Northridge’s Haylee Hile and Caitlin Clark, who finished one-two with respective times of 21:01 and 21:07. Ebright paced the Warriors with a 21:14 stop.
“Offseason is where moves are made, and she put the work in this offseason,” said Slabaugh. “Saturday, the NorthWood Invite, she ran a PR. NorthWood of course isn’t the easiest course to run one on, and tonight I think maybe her third or fourth best time ever, so a good race. And for her to never have run a high school race and to be leading through — I don’t know four, four-and-a-half K before the two Northridge girls passed her — a different experience for her to be up front like that.”
Bailey Mayhew and Cammy Kryder finished back-to-back in ninth and 10th place, both in times of 23:36, while Ella Beezley, Mariah Hurst and Autumn Turner finished in order in 13th through 15th place with times of 23:40, 24:03 and 24:09.
“There’s a pack there,” said Slabaugh. “At practices, they’re together. It’s just when we get in a race, they get separated so we’ve got to work to get together. That’s how we can do some stuff — if those girls work together, step up and challenge each other.”
Like Ebright, Michael Hammer finished third in the boys’ standings Tuesday. He, Plymouth’s Konnor Ray and Northridge’s Jack Moore comprised a pack at the front of the field, and the trio closed more than 40 seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher Jaxon Moore of Ridge. Ray separated late from the other two, breaking tape in 17:04, Moore was next in the chute in 17:17, and Hammer finished two seconds back in 17:19.
“He said he felt better at different points in the race. It’s still early and we’re definitely not trying to peak, but it was pretty much exactly the way I thought it would be — there would be three guys, one from each school, all kind of close enough to each have a chance to win it,” explained Wawasee head coach Chad Hoffert. “They might trade spots off and on; it depends on how the next three or four weeks go before conference. But I thought he had a good, strong race.”
Karlson Hand was next across the line in 13th place in a time of 19:03. Hand was positioned as high as fourth at the meet but began to fade in the last mile or so, and came down the home stretch wincing and holding his side.
“He, Hammer and Cam Powell had really good summers, and they’ve had a really good start to the season. They all three ran really well on Saturday,” said Hoffert. “Tonight wasn’t his best night. I haven’t really had a chance to talk to him. He was kind of holding his side — I don’t know if it was a side stitch, a cramp or exactly what it was — so that’s unfortunate, but it happens sometimes. But he has made a huge leap, so now he’s in a situation where he’s up there contending for the top spots in a race, and that’s a little bit of new territory for him. So he’s going to have to learn how to physically and mentally battle because it’s a little bit different than when you’re in the middle of a pack. But I’m proud of him. He’s made tremendous improvements.”
Powell finished 17th in a time of 19:18, while Thomas Conley placed 23rd in 19:38, and Trevor Smith was 25th in 19:54 to complete the Warriors’ score.
Wawasee cross country paid tribute to its four upperclassmen on senior night — Hammer, Conley and Jaydon Boyer on the boys’ side and Valeria Pizana on the girls’ side.
“Val, it’s weird that she’s the only senior. That’s different, being on a team with just one senior. Credit to her. She’s having fun this season with it,” said Slabaugh.
“Obviously Hammer has been strong for us the last two years coming into this year. Thomas Conley, he’s also a three-year letterwinner for us. He had a little bit slower start to the season, but he’s been steadily making improvements over the last two, three weeks. I said ‘Hey, you’re looking stronger,’ so I’m hoping to see him kind of close the gap and get up there where he was at the end of last year,” Hoffert said.
“And then our third senior, Jayden Boyer, is a new runner this year. I had one of the other guys ask if he was interested, and he said ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ He’s a quality young man. He works as hard at everything as he can and does everything he’s asked to do. He said he’s enjoying his time, and that’s part of it — you want to obviously try to maximize your ability, but you want to be able to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Wawasee travels to Goshen for another NLC three-way with Concord next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.