By Mike Deak
CULVER – Nearly a decade of dominance is on the line this weekend for the Warsaw boys and girls cross country teams as the second stage of the state tournament looms.
The Tiger boys are seeking its tenth straight regional title and 11th overall and the Lady Tigers are aiming for its ninth straight and tenth overall. The run of success since moving from Elkhart to Culver just over a decade ago has been well documented, as the Tigers have been exceptional on the team level.
Warsaw girls head coach Jason Fleming’s team is poised to force everyone else to chase, given it has the top runner in the regional in Joey Rastrelli, who has been on top of her game in her first season of cross country. Rastrelli won the Northern Lakes Conference at 19:08, and despite a 20-second add to her sectional time at 19:28, the conditions at Manchester were far worse than what was at Ox Bow for conference and she still won by a full 40 seconds. A potential showdown with Northwestern’s Hannah Moore could highlight the front end of the race, Moore running a 19:23 at the Logansport sectional.
Warsaw has seen Wini Barnett continue to be a consistent runner at the top of its lineup, and intermixed are the likes of Ava Knight, Mikayla Mimnaugh, Amanda Lusinde and Regan Brouwer, all who have been top-10 event runners this season, Knight, Barnett and Mimnaugh all top-10 at the sectional a week ago. Add in the fortunes with the talent of Marissa Howett contributing near top-10 levels, and Warsaw will be tough to beat once again on a track at Culver Academy nearly all the Lady Tigers are familiar with.
“We’ve been fortunate to have seen some of the best individual talent earlier in the year, which helps girls like Joey,” Fleming said. “We saw a bunch at Marion and New Prairie, seen Chesterton, Fort Wayne Carroll, teams like that. I like that Joey is going to get these challenges coming up, she likes to see the runners who are going to give her a challenge and make a race of it.”
Jim Mills didn’t feel his team showed anywhere near its best potential despite cruising to a championship at Manchester last weekend. But the longtime Warsaw skipper saw some individual potential that should translate to at least Warsaw being at the head of the regional conversation as it preps for the mega-tough New Prairie Semi-state on Oct. 23.
The trio of Garrett Hall, Harrison Phipps and Luke Nier continued to pepper the top of the standings, but all were chasing Culver Academy’s Sam Tullis, who pulled away from the rest to win the sectional at 16:44. Hall was the runner-up, with Phipps and Nier the next two in. Where Mills had his gripes were primarily with the 4-7 runners, who fell off the pace and were very spread out in coming across the finish line. Gaps between 30 seconds from third to fourth, to almost two minutes from third to seventh on the Warsaw list were cause for concern for Mills.
Mills is hoping to see Tyler Swartz, Ryun Hoffert, Nate Knecht and Clark Meridew all come home closer to the front three, if anything, to create the lack of diversity in times for the semi-state.
“I don’t think the course at Culver Academy will present any major challenges to our guys unless it rains a bunch between now and then,” Mills said. “Our guys have run there enough over the years, they know the course. It’s just whether or not we can stay together. We can’t have these big gaps between each other, or some of these better teams we’ll see will start stealing spots and we’re in trouble.”
Tippecanoe Valley will have five athletes active for the regional, led by Chesnee Miller and Evan Myers. Miller was 17th overall in the girls race, finishing in a jumble of nine runners within 15 seconds of one another. Myers was 33rd overall in the boys race, but third among the non-team advancers. Valley will also send out Isaac Whetstone, Brady Rodgers and Bailey Bussard.
Triton has Jocelynn Faulkner – who was seventh overall in the sectional – leading the way for the Trojans with boys Jaydon Heckaman and Travis Barnhart also running.
Racing at Culver Academy starts at 10:30 a.m. The top five teams and top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams move to the New Prairie Semi-State.