TERRE HAUTE —
Don’t go to LaVern Gibson Championship Course today looking for high school cross country upsets.
In the sectional races that begin at 5 p.m. — boys run first this year — it would take mishaps of epic proportion to keep Terre Haute South’s seventh-ranked boys and Terre Haute North’s 19th-ranked girls from finishing first.
For that matter, it might be similarly shocking if the North boys and the South girls don’t finish second.
A couple of other boys teams hope to challenge the Patriots for second place, Shakamak having dominated competition among the smaller schools in the area and Northview serving as the meet’s sentimental favorite because of former coach Chad Smith’s tragic onset of ALS.
A fifth team will advance to Saturday’s regional at Bedford North Lawrence so individual standouts like West Vigo’s Jonah Eckert, Linton’s Janzen Franklin and Clay City’s Blake Cochran and Parker Ames will try to finish well enough to pull their respective teams along with them.
South Vermillion, led by Tristan Spivey and Davey Francis, could also challenge.
Eckert, Franklin, Cochran, Ames, Spivey and Francis are virtually certain to advance themselves, however. A rule change this year reserves regional spots for the top 10 individuals who are not on advancing teams.
Shakamak has also enjoyed a strong girls season and could battle Northview for third place — or second, if the Braves have a bad day. West Vigo might be the sentimental favorite for the fifth spot as the Vikings try to extend Steve DeGroote’s last coaching assignment, and Rockville could be a team to reckon with.
The meet’s two favorites are looking well past today’s meet, however, and with good reason. Not only are they the class of their respective fields now, but they could continue to get better throughout their postseason runs.
South’s boys, for example, have earned most of their ranking this fall without their No. 1 runner. All-stater Jackson Bertoli has missed all but a few meets, but returned last week to place third in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference meet and serve notice that he’s a factor again.
“He’s very strong aerobically, he just has to get his leg strength back,” coach Kyle Walsh of the Braves said of Bertoli. “Every week he’ll be getting stronger. We were very happy with his start at the MIC meet, so we have big expectations.”
Just as important to South’s hopes was more news from the conference meet. Riley Stohler, who ran at the front of the South pack in Bertoli’s absence, placed fifth and Spencer Danielson sixth.
“Riley really stepped up as a leader with Jackson out,” Walsh noted. “We’d like to see Riley and Spence keep that tight hold on Jackson [near the front of the race].”
North’s girls won’t be at full strength today, or even Saturday, although with the deep Patriots it’s sometimes hard to notice.
Veteran Laura Johnson and freshman Devon Zeck, both of whom have run at or near the front of the North lineup, will rest lingering injuries until the semistate.
That means the individual favorite in today’s race could be Lindsay Welker or Jessi Conley or Mallory Sanders, possibly even Hannah Bunch of North.
“That’s the way it’s been all year,” coach Mike Dason said of his team’s tendency to take turns running at the front.
The rest of the Patriot lineup today will be Erin Buckallew, Anna Nagy and Keeliegh Stigall, with Kenzie Smokstad hoping to regain a spot for Saturday’s race and Sarah Coletti also capable of earning a place before the postseason races are over.
All seven Patriots running today could finish in the top 10, with South’s Katie Schmidt or Shakamak’s Aleksey Green seeming most capable of breaking up their pack.
Tribune-Star correspondent Steve Fields contributed to this report.
Prep cross country sectionals
• Where — LaVern Gibson Championship Course
• When — Boys race at 5 p.m. today, girls race at approximately 5:30
• Who — Schools who can enter are Clay City, Linton, North Central, Northview, Owen Valley, Riverton Parke, Rockville, Shakamak, South Vermillion, Sullivan, Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, Turkey Run and West Vigo.
• Other sectionals — North Vermillion will compete today at Benton Central, White River Valley at Brown County, Bloomfield at Bedford North Lawrence and the Putnam County schools at South Putnam.
• Advancement — The top five teams and the top 10 individuals who are not on an advancing team advance to regional races on Saturday.