The Columbus North boys are peaking at the right time, the North girls are looking to overcome the loss of a key runner to injury and the Jennings County boys want to atone for a bad race in last year’s state meet.
Those are the storylines going into Saturday’s Boys and Girls Cross Country State Finals. The boys race will be at 1 p.m., followed by the girls race at 1:45 p.m. at Terre Haute’s LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
“We’re running our best when our best is required,” North boys coach Danny Fisher said. “We’re full of confidence, training has been going well, we’re healthy and we’re anxious for the state meet to be here. The weather is going to be perfect, and we’re excited to see what we can do as a team.”
The 20th-ranked Bull Dogs, who won sectional and regional titles, had perhaps their best race of the season Saturday, when they finished fourth in the Brown County Semistate.
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Senior Charlie Allen has been North’s top runner for most of the past two seasons. He is joined by juniors Sam Horak and John Sluys, senior Drew Thompson, juniors Rishi Poludasu and Peyton Shelton and senior Spencer Sherlock.
“The goal is to run as fast as we did last week. The weather is going to be better. The competition is going to be better. It’s always great to be at your best and race the best of the best on the same day.”
No. 19 Jennings beat the Bull Dogs twice earlier in the season, but finished second to North at the regional. Saturday, the Panthers claimed the sixth and final qualifying spot from the semistate.
Jennings coach Bryant Layman, however, didn’t back off his team’s training until this week.
“We ran really good at conference, so I felt like we would be really good if we trained through regional and semistate,” Layman said. “After regional, I was a little leery, but luckily, we slid by (at semistate). We’re confident this week. We’re hoping to catch a lot of (the teams) off guard.”
The Panthers have about as strong a top four as anyone with senior Dalton Craig, sophomore Carter Leak, junior Alex Hendrix and senior Franklin Sanders. Senior Ryan Gasper has been their No. 5 runner, followed by sophomores Justin Gasper and AJ Seiner.
Jennings made its first state finals appearance last year and finished 22nd out of 24 teams.
“We’re not looking just to go to the state finals and be there this year,” Layman said. “We’re actually looking to do something. I absolutely believe we are a top-10 team. That would be a win for us — getting top 10.”
Brown County senior Wyatt Wyman will compete in the boys meet as an individual. He finished 17th in the semistate to lead the Eagles, who were 13th as a team.
The No. 22 North girls, meanwhile, will be without sophomore Olivia Morlok, who has a shin injury. Morlok, who has been one of the Bull Dogs’ top two runners the past two seasons, did not run in the regional, but did make in through the semistate.
Senior Arig Tong has been the top runner for most of this season for North, which won sectional and regional titles and finished fifth at semistate. With Morlok and senior Kirsten Ballard running injured, freshmen Aric Tong and Mackenzie Barnett were the Nos. 2 and 3 runners on Saturday.
Freshman Ella Anderson, junior Emma Smith and Ballard will remain in the lineup for state. Morlok will be replaced by sophomore Abbey Landini.
“It will definitely look and feel different without Olivia,” North girls coach Bethany Scruton said. “She’s been such a big part of the team. But the girls have really high goals both for themselves individually and the team, and I’ll just be really happy with whatever they’re able to do on that day.”
What: Boys and Girls Cross Country State Finals
When: 1 p.m. Saturday (boys); 1:45 p.m. Saturday (girls)
Where: LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at Wabash Valley Sports Center, 599 S. Tabortown Rd., Terre Haute
Who: 24 boys teams, including Columbus North and Jennings County; 24 girls teams, including North