CULVER — Warsaw boys cross country coach Jim Mills figured it’d be a good day at Saturday’s Culver Academies Sectional if he could place his entire top five inside the field’s top 10. A lofty goal but not unreasonable as it turns out.
The Tigers put up a dominant, 24-point tally on the way to an eighth-straight sectional title in the boys race, while the Lady Tigers were nearly just as good with 38 points on their way to a ninth-straight championship.
“It was a pretty good performance today. I was really happy,” said Mills.
“Right before the race I said ‘We have a good day if we get five in the top 10.’ And that was with Fernando (Niebbia), he had a stitch for most of the race, so he was back where he didn’t belong, and we still managed five in the top 10. They ran well.”
Jacob Kissling set the pace in 16:44, while classmate Sam Lechlitner gradually wore down Plymouth’s Konnor Ray for second-place in a time of 16:50. Tanner Stiver placed fourth in 16:57, Austin Fleming crossed the line in 17:24 for seventh place overall, while Lukas Nier finished 10th in 17:28 for Warsaw’s boys.
“I call him like a blue collar runner, and that’s what he is,” said Mills of Kissling. “There’s nothing fancy about watching Jacob run, but, man, he knows when to surge, he gets himself in a good position in the race. He’s just a smart runner, and each week he keeps getting better and he keeps making the rest of these guys better. They just sort of follow the path.”
Wini Barnett led much of the way in the girls’ race but ultimately faded into third behind winner Alexis Allen of CGA and runner-up Madilyn Calloway of Rochester, finishing up in 19:38. Ava Knight ran a personal-best 19:53 to finish in fourth behind her, Amanda Lusinde and Erika Bugg finished back-to-back in ninth and 10th with respective times of 20:32.0 and 20:32.5, and Regan Brouwer recorded a 21:17 time for 12th place.
“We worked on a couple of tactical things that we may need to be using as we advance hopefully deeper into the tourney. A couple girls tried some things. We’re kind of solidifying our roster for a big push leading into regionals, semi-state. It was a good day. Conditions weren’t the greatest, but when are they ever really?” said coach Jason Fleming.
Of the first six runners who entered the chute in Saturday’s girls race, two were from Warsaw, two were from Rochester and two were from CGA, making it seem as though the final team standings might be closely contested. But the Tigers’ depth proved too much for the field, even with one of its top runners sitting out in Adree Beckham.
“We’re resting Adree right now. She ran well at conference last week. We have a couple of younger guns that we wanted to test out on the course here because it is regional as well. We gave her the day off. She’s training well. It is nice to have a little bit of depth to help us through aches and pain here and there and rest or whatever,” said Fleming.
“Wini is our frontrunner, and she worked on a strategy today. She’s not a big kick runner, and she knows it so she goes out early and lays down the gauntlet and says ‘If you’re gonna go, you’re gonna go with me.’ She got caught today, and she’ll analyze it and come back with a plan next week. Ava was a big surprise today. Mentally, she’s really starting to build and understand that she can be running up front. She ran her PR today or equivalent to her PR today in windy conditions. Erica Bugg was a big lift for us coming in, and so was Amanda Lucinde right there together. Reagan Brower is on the move. She had been running JV most of the season, and we put her on the roster based on some of her latter races. And she just breaks out.”
Meanwhile Saturday, Tippecanoe Valley placed seventh in both the boys and girls races, collecting 194 points in the girls’ run and 166 in the boys’ tilt. Matthew Howes earned individual regional advancement with a 15th-place finish in 17:38, and teammate Mitchell Smith placed 23rd in a time of 18:20 to earn another of the top 10 regional berths for runners from non-advancing teams. Chase Miller advanced as well, placing 39th with a time of 19:40. Valeria Jimenez also advanced in the girls field with a 28th-place time of 23:12, as did Ella Myers in 41st (25:53) and Ava Craig in 43rd (26:08).
Triton was eighth in both races with 181 points in the boys race and 213 in the girls race. Russell Reichard will move on to next weekend’s regional following his 21st-place (18:11) performance Saturday, while Anela Hill finished 35th (24:07), and Makenna May was 39th (24:50) in the girls run as both earned the right to advance there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this post omitted Tippecanoe Valley’s Chase Miller’s individual regional qualification. We regret the error.