North girls land on podium with fifth-place finish

TERRE HAUTE — Columbus North didn’t have an All-State girls runner at Saturday’s Girls Cross Country State Finals, but the Bull Dogs used a solid pack to earn their first spot on the medals podium since 2015.

The third-ranked Bull Dogs put four runners in the top 42 overall and in the top 30 when those running as individuals were displaced. That allowed North to claim a fifth-place team finish, just three points out of fourth.

Fort Wayne Carroll won the championship with 101 points. Zionsville finished second with 143, followed by Carmel with 162, Fishers with 192, the Bull Dogs with 195 and Brebeuf Jesuit with 201.

“We have four freshmen running, and we have good senior leadership and merging all those together, we did a great job,” North coach Rick Sluder said.

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That senior leadership was huge on Saturday. Olivia Morlok, the lone senior in the top seven, has been the Bull Dogs’ No. 4 runner most of the year, but ran her best race of the season to finish 33rd in 19 minutes, 5.0 seconds for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) at LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.

“This team medal has been the goal all year, so just working together for each other to earn this medal, every place counts, every girl matters, and I was just focusing on that and giving it my all,” Morlok said. “I wanted to make my last race my best, and I wanted to do it with these girls because it’s our last time we’ll get to race together.”

Freshman Brianna Newell was just a second behind, finishing 36th in 19:06.2.

“I didn’t feel the best today, but I still think at the end, all the yelling from my coaches and my parents helped me to keep pushing toward the last 600 meters,” Newell said. “Also, all my teammates helped me throughout the entire race and throughout this entire season.”

Freshman Lily Baker finished 42nd in 19:10.5, and junior Mackenzie Barnett took 44th in 19:10.7. Freshman Ellen White rounded out North’s scoring with a 125th-place finish in 20:21.4.

Also for the Bull Dogs, freshman Jessica Meza took 145th in 20:36.4, and junior Aric Tong was 189th in 21:47.5.

Competing as an individual, Brown County freshman Hadley Gradolf finished 57th in 19:20.5.

“I don’t think I ran my best, but I ran OK,” Gradolf said. “It was nice (weather) compared to last week. I think it’s a very nice course.”

Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger senior Erin Strzelecki won the race in 17:22.9.

Meanwhile, North continued an upward trend with its state meet finish.

“We were last (24th) and 20th, and now we’re on the podium, so our last three years have been trending the right way, and we feel really good about our direction now,” Sluder said. “We should grow a lot over the next couple of years. Our freshmen are going to be able to do more good work and good things over the summer, and I think it’s just going to get better and better.”