TERRE HAUTE — Experience is not a problem for Terre Haute’s two teams in the IHSAA cross country championships today at LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
Terre Haute South’s boys will be making a fourth straight trip to the finals in the 1 p.m. race, while the Terre Haute North girls will compete in their 10th consecutive state finals at 1:45.
And experience at the state finals is not an inconsequential thing. Racing against the best in the entire state has been known to burn out lots of competitors, so knowing what to expect can be vital. A total of 24 teams plus 40 other individuals — including Bloomfield’s Alli Workman in the girls race — have qualified from each gender.
Both the Braves and Patriots hope to exceed expectations in their respective races.
South’s boys are hoping for a podium finish, which would mean being among the top five teams. They’ll go into the race ranked sixth.
North’s girls, currently ranked 14th, are setting their sights on beating Bloomington South, and if they can accomplish that — the Patriots were 17 points behind the Panthers at last Saturday’s semistate — they could finish in the top 10.
Bloomington South is currently ranked ninth.
The tops of the two high school cross country polls are identical, with Carmel, Columbus North and West Lafayette ranked first through third on both lists.
Coach Mike Dason of the North girls expects Carmel to dominate girls competition, even though Columbus North was impressive against the semistate field, while coach Kyle Walsh of the South boys expects a two-team battle for first place.
“After Columbus North and Carmel,” Walsh said, “there are eight or nine teams going for the last three podium spots. There will be some very good teams that finish outside the top five.”
The Braves were just 16 points behind fourth-ranked Bloomington South at the semistate and Walsh is hopeful his team — which may still be reaching its peak — can make up some if not all of that difference.
“This has been a special group,” he said of a South squad that maintained its spot among the state’s best despite limited regular-season participation from two of its top three runners. The Braves were led by Riley Stohler while Jackson Bertoli (Achilles tendon) and Spencer Danielson (shins) battled nagging injuries.
Bertoli returned to form to win the semistate race, with Stohler placing fourth. Danielson’s ninth-place finish there came despite the junior not yet being in full training mode.
“Adding those two back in the lineup made us a pretty dangerous team,” Walsh said. “Our goal Saturday is to have all of our guys have their best race of the season. If we do that, we should be on the podium.”
Dason’s Patriots haven’t been quite as fortunate with the timing of their injuries. Freshman Devon Zeck and veteran Laura Johnson, both of whom ran at the front for North at various times early in the season, are not available this weekend.
Depth has been North’s calling card the entire season, however, and sophomore Lindsay Welker has taken over the top spot decisively in postseason races. Jessi Conley, who was North’s top runner at the semistate and state finals a year ago, also knows how to emerge in big races.
“We had a great pack [at the semistate]; our two through six [runners] were really close together [separated by 19 seconds],” Dason pointed out this week, “and that’s what matters at this meet.
“We need to get Jessi up a little farther and get our pack closer to Lindsay [who finished sixth in the semistate] — but we don’t want [Welker] to wait for them either.”