TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute has a pair of teams with sights on a podium finish Saturday at the IHSAA cross country state finals at LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
Terre Haute South’s boys are eyeing a school-record finish to top the 1996 team’s place of 10th, and the Terre Haute North girls are looking to improve upon last year’s record 9th-place finish.
“We’d like to better that,” North girls coach Mike Dason said. “This is probably the best team I’ve ever coached. There’s a lot of good teams that are competing this year. There’s going to be two unbelievable races.”
Terre Haute South’s ace, junior Nikki Thiede, has led the Braves into the girls field for the third straight year. While a foot injury has deterred Thiede’s development this season, the Braves will hope to improve upon a 23rd-place result in 2011.
South boys coach Kyle Walsh, in his second year as coach, can certainly say the same. Junior Jackson Bertoli is among the contenders for the individual title, and the rest of his Braves are believing their best race of the season will be Saturday.
“I think the main point I have to get across is it’s uncommon to have your entire team performing really well together at the end of the year,” Walsh said. “To have everybody believing that they’re best race is yet to come, my guys have that sense that none of them have had their best race yet this year.”
“We feel like Saturday will be our best race of the year. The times don’t really matter. It’s more about place. Every individual out of the seven racing will have their mission, their goal, what they’re supposed to accomplish.”
The Braves have won the sectional, regional and semistate on their way to the state finals. Analyzing opponents and knowing his team well, Walsh sees big things for his squad.
“We’ve talked all year about getting in the top 10. On a perfect day, we have a shot to get into the top 5. We’ve got to have two different tiered goals. Top 10 is our lower-end goal, but we’ve got a shot at the podium,” Walsh said.
Bertoli, who took third place in the semistate with a time of 15 minutes, 38 seconds, hopes to bounce back and challenge the likely favorites for the individual title. Connor Sorrells of Barr-Reeve ran a 5K of 15:17 to win the Brown County Semistate, and senior Troy Reeder of Hamilton Southeastern took the Carmel Semistate without much opposition in 15:45.2. Reeder is the top returner after finishing third in 2011.
Bertoli, who was 34th as a sophomore, just wants to be in the lead pack, hoping his best effort gives him a chance.
“Honestly, if you're going to line up and race, you’re going try to win a cross country race. I don't want to put that pressure on myself. Just want to go in and give myself a shot and do the best I can that day,” said Bertoli, who has seen his team work hard to run as a pack all year. “Our team is looking better than ever before. Ever since middle of the season, it's getting better and better. One final shot we've been talking about all year. I think the guys are ready, I'm ready, coach Walsh is looking to have everybody do some pretty big things on Saturday.”
Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Valparaiso and three-time defending state champion Columbus North are the top contenders for the team title.
On the girls side, Carmel is the favorite to repeat as champions after a historic performance in 2011, the Greyhounds’ 43 points tying for the third lowest score in the meet’s history.
Warsaw’s Ashley Erba is a popular pick to repeat as individual champion.
North’s Chanli Mundy was ninth last year as a junior, but the Patriots’ leader hasn’t looked herself in the last couple races. Mundy was 19th at the semistate as junior Jessi Conley paced the Patriots in 11th, and freshman Lindsay Welker was 16th.
Bad races happen, and Dason hopes Mundy can get back to finishing races strong as she did when winning the Metropolitan Interscholastic Championship several weeks ago.
“I think she had a bad race. That’s why we compete,” Dason said. “… You go out and compete and sometimes you’ve got the wrong cards. She didn’t have the right hand that day. It just wasn’t going her way. We’ll get that bad race out of the way. Hopefully she’ll have a chance to prove the type of runner she really is.”
Mundy and Conley could certainly have a shot at all-state, and the Patriots’ depth could come into play Saturday as the team deals with multiple injuries. Senior Sydney Dickerson, a standout in the 400 and 800 meters on the track, might even be in the lineup, Dason said. Katie Loebker is the other senior who will be competing for North.
“The girls cannot wait for Saturday. They are ready to compete. We have nine girls that could run,” Dason said.
The South’s boys’ senior leadership has also been key, Walsh said.
“I’m just really excited for Logan Hambrock, senior year, just broke 16 minutes for first time in his career,” Walsh said. “He’s really a track guy but has bought into cross mentality. One of best cross runners in South history. Proud of the effort he’s come along. This team can’t be as good as we want to be without him being our tough No. 2 runner.”
Seniors Devon Fuson and Isaac Wunderlin were South’s fourth and fifth runners much of the season.
“ They’ve both stepped up big this year,” Walsh said. “Last chance together for this group, last state meet together.”