Twelve years ago, Columbus North ruled the state of Indiana in cross-country.
The Bull Dog boys and girls both ran to state titles on the same day in 2009 in Terre Haute. That was the North girls’ only state title and the third of what is now six state crowns for the boys.
Saturday afternoon, the Bull Dogs will try to repeat that double on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross-Country Course. Both North teams are ranked No. 1 and will be favorites heading into the noon boys and 3 p.m. girls races.
“We might be the favorite going in, and to be honest, there’s no place we’d rather be,” North boys coach Danny Fisher said. “The boys are comfortable there, and they respect that. To get over there and run great has been our expectation all year, and we’ve been looking forward to this weekend.”
So, too, have the girls.
“We feel pretty confident,” North girls coach Rick Sluder said. “We’ve had a great season, and we are as ready as we’re going to be. We’re excited and ready to go after it.”
While the Bull Dog boys are a solid favorite to defend their championship, the girls likely will face a big challenge from No. 3 Carmel. North beat No. 2 Floyd Central by 31 points in Saturday’s Brown County Semistate, but have split two close meets with Carmel this season.
“Carmel has had a great season, and we’re 1-1 against Carmel this year,” Sluder said. “So we definitely have our eyes on Carmel. They had a really good semistate, also. So we kind of feel it’s us vs. Carmel, with Noblesville, Floyd Central and a couple other teams on the outside.”
Like Carmel, the Bull Dogs have three solid frontrunners with juniors Julia Kiesler, Lily Baker and Brianna Newell. North’s next four runners — seniors Katherine Rumsey, Alyssa Green and Abby Jacobi and junior Sydney Morlok — all ran personal-best times and finished within five seconds of each other at the semistate.
“We feel like we match up with them pretty well,” Sluder said. “They have a big 1-2-3 punch. We should have a good 1-2-3 punch, we hope, on that day. The big difference where we think we’re going to have our edge, hopefully, is our 4-5-6-7, like we showed the other day can finish within a few seconds of each other. That’s going to be our edge, we think, against Carmel.”
Baker, Newell and Jacobi will be competing in their third state cross-country meet. Rumsey, Green and Morlok will be running in their first.
Kiesler, who won this year’s semistate race, ran in the California state meet her freshman year, and that meet was canceled last fall. This will be her first state meet in Indiana.
“We’re just preparing like any other race, so there’s nothing really special happening, other than, it’s our biggest race yet,” Kiesler said. “We’re just going to go out and do what we always do.”
Meanwhile, the North boys have a little more state-meet experience. Seniors Reese Kilbarger-Stumpff, Matt Newell and Evan Carr will be competing in their fourth state cross-country meet, and senior Will Kiel will be running in his second. Juniors Clayton Guthrie, Mateo Mendez and Will Russell will be competing at state for the first time.
“It’s a great mix,” Fisher said. “Mike Smith at Northern Arizona’s program said once that being here and doing this before is a two-edged sword. It’s great that we’ve been here and done this before, but it’s also nerve-racking that we’ve been here and done this before. We don’t want to be complacent. We don’t want it to feel like it’s just another state meet.
“It’s important,” he added. “It’s what we’ve been training for all year, so to still go into it like it’s our first one, and we’re turning over all the rocks and seeing ways we can still improve and to be prepared and perform our best is where our mindset is this week.”
The Bull Dogs’ biggest challenges could come from No. 2 Hamilton Southeastern, No. 3 Brebeuf Jesuit, No. 4 Center Grove and No. 5 Carmel.
“I think there’s a lot of unknowns,” said Kilbarger-Stumpff, who won the semistate race. “Brebeuf is really quite good. Center Grove is really quite good. Carmel is always good. Hamilton Southeastern, there’s a lot of good teams. We know how hard of a team we are to beat, and we know what we need to do at state, so I think we’re prepared to run as hard as we can, and if it ends up being a title, then it’s great.”