TERRE HAUTE —
As awards are presented at the Indiana high school cross country finals, the biggest cheers always come when the sixth-place team is announced.
The team that’s sixth isn’t doing the cheering, however. Teams are announced in reverse order of finish, and only the top five teams make the podium. Thus the teams whose names haven’t been called are the happy ones, and on Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course one of the happiest groups was from Terre Haute South.
Led by Jackson Bertoli’s individual championship and top-40 finishes by Spencer Danielson and Riley Stohler, coach Kyle Walsh’s Braves got the podium finish they were looking for, Stohler’s finish ahead of Bloomington South’s second runner — by seven-tenths of a second — providing the margin in a two-point lead over the Panthers.
“We couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” Walsh said afterward. “An individual state champion and a team on the podium.”
The news wasn’t as good for Terre Haute North’s girls; although there were some individual highlights, the Patriots were just 18th as a team.
South’s accomplishments had been in the planning stage for some time, Walsh said Saturday.
“This was something we’d talked about for many, many months with the team, and for many, many years with Jackson,” the coach said, “and it took a full team effort. Every single guy brought his best effort.”
Danielson’s finish ahead of Stohler may have been a mild surprise, but it wasn’t a stunner for his coach.
“By far it was the best race of his life,” Walsh said of Danielson, “but he’s the one member of our team that I never need a race plan for … he’s always a gamer.”
Bertoli’s win was all that prevented a total sweep by Carmel. The Greyhounds won the girls championship for the fourth time in a row and the fifth time in six years; repeated as boys champions, giving them three in six years (with 2013 runner-up Columbus North winning the other three in that span); had the girls individual champion in Kelcy Welch; and swept the mental attitude awards, Welch joined there by Bobby Browning.
Carmel had its top three runners in the top 13 of the boys race, with its other four bunched within six seconds of each other not far behind. Columbus had four runners ahead of Carmel’s fourth, but the Greyhounds’ seventh runner was just 1.4 seconds behind the fifth runner for the Bull Dogs.
The Greyhounds were even more heavily favored in the girls race, and that proved to be an accurate assessment. Hamilton Southeastern emerged from its neighbor’s shadow to edge Columbus North for second — although it’s probably worth noting that team leader Mackenzie Caldwell is the only Columbus senior.
Elkhart Memorial’s Sierra Moore went to the front early in the girls race, but it soon turned into a two-runner battle between Welch and Caldwell. Welch, 17th in the state meet a year ago, eventually won by more than three seconds with LaPorte’s Elena Lancioni emerging from the pack behind the leaders to finish third.
North’s results were a disappointment to coach Mike Dason — until he took a second look.
“Lindsay Welker actually had a 30-second personal record on this course,” he said. “Hannah Bunch [North’s second runner on Saturday] did a very good job.”
Two runners who might have helped the Patriot team score were unavailable throughout postseason races, but the North girls had overcome those obstacles until Saturday.
“This was not what we thought it was going to be,” Dason said. “Given our injuries, though, we were glad to be here [for the 10th straight season] … and three of our top five today are returning.
“It was a great day to have a race,” he concluded, “and at least [Terre Haute] has another state champion [in Bertoli, who joins former Patriot TaPring Goatee as the only Wabash Valley cross country champions].”