By Mike Deak
WARSAW – As the old saying goes, if you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen. Well, Joey Rastrelli took that personal. She was cooking.
The Warsaw sophomore was running like her shoes were on fire, commanding the 5,000 meters of the Warsaw cross country course Tuesday to overwhelm the competition at the Warsaw Cross Country Invite. In an oppressive heat that knocked out a pair of programs before the meet even began, Rastrelli not only didn’t look bothered by the 98 degree heat index, but looked almost comfortable in it.
Running with her Warsaw pack for the first K of the race, Rastrelli, in her first season of cross country, broke away and never was challenged the rest of the way. After a sensational freshman track season as a distance runner, Rastrelli would blaze to a 19:48 championship, over a full minute better than teammate and runner-up Wini Barnett, who herself broke away from the team pack as the race wore on. Barnett’s 20:49 wasn’t challenged for second, teammate Ava Knight well back in third at 21:34.
“Honestly, I think she was just trying to hurry this up so she could get to soccer,” joked Warsaw girls cross country head coach Jason Fleming of Rastrelli, who also plays on the Warsaw girls soccer team that had a JV game starting at 6 p.m. across campus. “Joey is just a great athlete, but this was her first 5K race. She’s still learning, and I saw a couple areas where we could even get a few more seconds down. We’re excited to see her learn and get better.”
Regan Brouwer was fifth overall at 21:44, beat to the line by a step by Manchester’s Ayla Cashdollar as the only one to break up Warsaw’s siege of the top of the standings. Mikayla Mimnaugh was seventh at 21:50, giving Warsaw it’s five scorers in the top seven overall.
With both Fairfield and NorthWood dropping out of the race earlier in the day, Warsaw’s abbreviated team pool had the Tigers score 17 points to cruise to the title, Manchester second at 61 and Columbia City third at 68.
“We knew the weather would be what it was, and we knew it would be tough tonight,” Fleming said. “We ran tonight without two of our girls from the front of our group. Yeah, we were missing a couple teams, but did we finish today healthy, did we run as best as we could? That’s what we’ll take from today as we start preparing for the NLC race next week.”
Tippecanoe Valley had its four athletes running in the girls race, and had a top 10 runner in Chesnee Miller. The sophomore ran a 21:47 to land between Brouwer and Mimnaugh in a fairly solid race overall. Bailey Bussard was back in 21st (24:53) with a third wave of runners, and both Maria Henderson (28:10) and Talia Holder (28:48) brought up the second half of the racers. Valley, lacking a fifth runner at the moment, did not field a team score.
“Chesnee battled well today, really all of the girls did considering what they were up against,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Mike Inglehearn. “Right now we are running as singles, but we saw some decent runs today.”
Moving into the second race with the boys, Columbia City put together quite a show in landing all five of its scorers in the top 12 places, including race champion Austin Hall, who motored in at 16:46. Hall hit the first 1,000 among the top three, but started to spread out from Warsaw’s Harrison Phipps and Mishawaka’s Ryan Hoopingarner as the race wore on.
Hoopingarner would find a late gear to split both Phipps and Columbia City’s Seth Mills, and take second at 17:03 while Phipps would outstep Mills at the line at 17:14.
Warsaw, running without four of its top runners per coach’s decisions, would still edge Mishawaka for second in the team ledger, 50-53. Andrew Potter would give Warsaw a second big score with a seventh place at 17:57 and Ryun Hoffert was ninth overall at 18:08. Tyler Swartz (18:26) and Gabe Klein (18:51) were the four and five for Warsaw.
“Right now, the only thing we’re going to focus on is the tournament,” said Warsaw boys cross country head coach Jim Mills. “We’re not going to be ready for that first or second conference meet with where we’re at right now. Maybe by the big conference meet at OxBow in October, it will take most of the regular season to get some of these young kids who haven’t run varsity races, they need some time. Can we be there by October? Certainly. But in August, we’re not quite there.”
Tippecanoe Valley also had four boys running, again, short of team qualification, but experience just the same. Evan Myers was the top Viking at 19:51, running a personal record. Isaac Whetstone (24:42), Eli Sterk (24:51) and Aaron Backus (28:40) wrapped up Valley’s male entrants.