By Mike Deak
ELKHART – Northridge cross country coach Ryan McClane figured to win one sectional trophy. But certainly not two.
In 2020, however, anything goes from day to day. Goshen, the runaway Northern Lakes Conference champions, were missing two of its top three – one to COVID contact tracing and another to an ankle injury, leaving the RedHawks shorthanded. Enter the Raiders, which placed its top five in the top 12 overall to raise some eyebrows to those not at Ox Bow Park Saturday morning for the Elkhart Cross Country Sectional.
Goshen, with overall champion Drew Hogan (16:28) and de facto No. 2 Ryan Diaz (16:33), still scored 61 points to contend with the Raiders’ 37 points. NorthWood was third with 74, followed by Concord at 97 and Elkhart at 106 as the top five teams to advance to the Elkhart Regional next weekend.
Northridge was led by Jaxon Miller in fourth at 16:37, with its next four timing within 11 seconds of each other following Bryce McMann’s 17:13.
Goshen was missing Tommy Claxton, out with the bum ankle, and Cole Johnston, out for contact tracing.
NorthWood ran together for the most part, using the beat of the Hype Wagon as its guide to navigate the 5,000 meters of familiar Ox Bow territory. Brady Hunsberger led the Panthers around the course at 16:55 and fifth place overall in a personal best for him. Grady Stevenson (17:23) was part of a mad dash of a second wave of runners, finishing a step behind Wawasee’s Karlson Hand (17:22) and a step ahead of Northridge’s Jon Spicher (17:24), with four more competitors all racing to the line in the next handful of seconds.
Jordan Burden (17:40), Owen Allen (17:46) and Eric Hochstetler (17:50) were the scorers for the Panthers.
“Typically out here if it’s hotter and more humid, you’ll see times be 20-30 seconds slower,” noted NorthWood boys coach Justin Bell. “Brady ran his personal best, and accounting for the averages being slower, he really stepped up not only for himself, but for our team because we needed as many low scores as we could get, obviously. It’s important for me as a coach, yeah, it’s a beautiful day, but when it’s more warm for what we usually see in October, we’re here to race and get through to regionals.”
NorthWood’s girls also took third in the morning’s opener, scoring 90 points to better Goshen’s 101 and Fairfield’s 117. Northridge, to no one’s surprise, won its 28th straight girls title with a scant 32 points with Elkhart as runner-up with 60 points.
Kaitlin Burden of NorthWood was the ‘best of the rest’, running an outstanding tour of the park with a time of 20:03. All were chasing Northridge’s Haylee Hile, the sophomore who won her second straight sectional after whipping the field a week ago at the NLC meet. Hile ran away from Burden and everyone else midway through the circuit and came home at 19:50.
For the Panthers, its next four were all in the 22s, with Reese Barhydt and Emilie Allen both crossing together at 22:05, followed by Jenna Markham (22:39) and Sydney Prenkert (22:55).
The Raiders peppered the top 10 as expected, with Hile, Tame Baylis (4, 20:17), Clare Ritchie (5, 20:17), Emma Long (8, 21:07) and Ella Hoefer (14, 21:59).
Wawasee was able to advance a handful of individuals to the regional round despite a pair of seventh-place team finishes. Wawasee scored 182 in the girls standings and 197 in the boys standings.
Moving on for the Lady Warriors were Lily Tyler (22:45), Emma Ebright (23:07) and Mariah Hurst (23:58) and the Warriors had Hand and Camden Powell (18:18) qualify.
Wawasee girls coach Doug Slabaugh was frustrated again with the circumstances his team has faced all season, losing his No. 2 in Ella Beezley to strep throat during the week, and having both Ebright and Hurst return to racing competition for the first time in three weeks after contact tracing had them out of action.
“We haven’t had a full team all year, and when you factor in Emma and Mariah have been out for 26 days for quarantine, they haven’t raced since the Warsaw meet,” Slabaugh said. “That’s tough, especially at this time of the year. It was nice to see them back in the lineup, and now we lose Ella, which is a big component to our lineup and probably kept us out of the team regional.”
Wawasee boys coach Jose Lopez’s viewpoint was a tad different, trying to get his lineup to keep pace with some the Concord’s and Elkhart’s of the meet to try and sneak into the regional round. His top two will have to do.
“Elkhart was a strong team coming in from the other conference and we had the other four NLC teams here that beat us last week,” Lopez said. “Karlson wanted to try to take out that first K a little bit harder, knowing he had a good shot if it worked. He tried to go with that first pack of five and tried to hang on. We might have to dial it back a little next week if he wants to get out of regional.
“Camden wanted to try something and go out with Karl, and said after that first K he felt it a little bit, but knew he had to muscle it. When I saw him at the 3K, he was still responsive so that was a good sign.”
Lakeland Christian had one runner in each race, and both saw their seasons end. Rebecca Bass ran a 26:20 on the girls side and Jude Hall a 20:55 on the boys side.
The Elkhart Regional will again be run at Ox Bow Park next Saturday, with the top five teams and individuals from Elkhart and South Bend sectionals convening. Racing begins at 10:30 a.m.