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Happier ending: After injury ended her junior season at semistate, Stock leads Valparaiso to title

NEW CARLISLE -- The site of Cheyanne Stock's cross country low point also turned out to be her high point.

The Valparaiso senior, who couldn't complete last year's New Prairie Semistate due to a season-ending stress fracture, finished second in the same race Saturday to lead the Vikings to the team title.

"Knowing what happened last year was definitely in my head, but I used it as a motivation," Stock said. "I knew that last year, one of the worst things happened to me on this course, but I let those thoughts go right when the gun went off. I had girls pushing me the whole race and once I crossed the line, I couldn't be happier to have such a good memory this time around the course and finally letting what happened last year stay in the past. I am beyond grateful for how well this season is and has been going and I'm beyond excited to see what we do at state."

Stock ran second to the host school's Lilly Zelasko (18:03.1), finishing in 18:38.4, with classmate Grace Thomas placing eighth (19:18.9) as the Vikings topped Morgan Township 105-129 for the team title.

Lillian Zelasko of New Prairie leads the pack at the start of Saturday's semistate race. The Cougars senior won the title in 18:03.1. Morgan Township's Peyton Bucher (3663) placed eighth, helping the Cherokees to a runner-up showing. Photo by Susan Anglin

"Cheyanne and Grace were awesome," Valpo coach John Arredondo said. "They carried us. That's what you want. The seniors, it's their job. It's only the second semistate for Cheyanne because she hasn't been healthy. She told me, coach, I'm going to do it. For her to get second, I'm ecstatic. Grace was a 21-minute girl freshman year, watching her work, being a varsity girl all four years, to see her to be in the top 10, so cool. I'm really proud of the coaching staff for getting her where she needs to be."

It was a mixed bag for the Vikings after that with typical No. 3 runner Elizabeth Ehrhardt not scoring. Liv Hatch (34th), Brooke Byvoets (45th) and Annika Anderson (58th) completed the top five.

"Liv's been really sick, she probably shouldn't have raced, but she wanted to give it a shot," Arredondo said. "She struggled bad. All I saw was the huge gap between two and three and I thought, oh no. I knew we matched up well with Morgan one-two-three, but we had to get them on the back end. I would've been so happy for them. We train at the same place, so we talk to them all the time."

The semistate title was Arredondo's first as Valpo's head coach.

"To me, this is the worst meet of the year," he said. "You've just got to run what you're capable of doing. Our depth carried us. Everybody else just did what they were supposed to to get the job done. We'll re-rack and put seven on the line to give our best shot to maybe get a top 10 (state) finish. If we run well, we might even be higher than that."

Lake Central's Addison Roth and Valparaiso's Cheyanne Stock run during Saturday's New Prairie Semistate. Stock finished second to lead the Vikings to the team title, while the Indians also advanced as a team.

Morgan became the first Porter County Conference school to advance to the girls state meet.

"It's exciting for them, for the school, for me," Cherokees coach Joel Davis said. "We're thrilled to be going downstate. We didn't really have a history until about eight or nine years ago. I think we're going to go down there and compete as best we can. Some teams go and say, OK, just enjoy the experience. We'll see what we can do."

Peyton Bucher (ninth), Dana Abbring (18th) and Emersyn Bland (24th) paced Morgan with Isabella Bryan 51st and Vanessa Parsons 78th.

"It's such a young group, but they handled it wonderfully. Most of them are so young, we ran those other races so they wouldn't be scared. I think they did OK with that. I think they were still a little scared at the beginning because the pace was a little faster than they thought. (The start) was a huge deal. No, we didn't want sixth, but we wanted to make sure we got out. (Catching up) doesn't happen here. Once you get out, you've just got to hold on and hope you don't get passed. They all did a great job."

Bucher expressed relief as much as joy in the outcome.

"I'm excited. I was kind of expecting to, but it's still really fun," she said. "I'm happy it's over. I went out good, so I didn't get trapped. I felt like it was fast because it took a while to catch my breath."

Warsaw (144) was third, with Maconaquah (172) edging Lake Central (178) for fourth.

"We were seventh last year and a lot of the girls who ran, ran last year," said Indians coach Morgan Kleinaman, who had no seniors in the lineup. "They wanted redemption, to have that comeback race. We knew there were like 10 teams who were in that toss-up. We knew it was going to be hard, and take a perfect race. I kept telling them, get after it, no regrets. If they run a good race, compete with everybody around them, our chances were high to get out. I felt good. I was still very nervous waiting. We were anywhere from making it out to eighth maybe. These big meets are so hard to count, to keep track."

Sydney Churilla was LC's first runner in 25th, followed by Addison Roth (44th), Nicole Vollrath (49th), Marie Weber (57th) and Mackenzie Smith (65th).

"Sydney's normally our two or three," Kleinaman said. "Our six and seven were not where we hoped they would be. We talked about trying to get someone close to or in the top 20. So many teams have that. We were right there. The others, stick together, keep people in sight. We kept saying all week, seven is as important as one is when get to meets like this. If they don't score, we still need them to be close. I'm just excited and ready to go for next weekend. One girl ran state two years ago as a freshman. Everybody else is brand new, other than being there to watch."

Crown Point continued its tournament series surge, claiming sixth with 180. Destiny Wells (33rd) was the top finisher among a well-bunched first four -- Nora Carpenter (39th), Gabby DeJesus (46th) and Jenny Diesem (47th).

"I don't think anybody really put us on the trajectory we are, winning sectional and regional and going to state," Bulldogs coach Scott Coil said. "We didn't really have a great racing day, but it was enough to be where we need to be. I hope it's just been us coming to where we needed to be. I was hoping we would come out of the race feeling like we got this and we came out going, crap, it's going to be so close. When they said two teams (for seventh), I was like, oh my God. I'm just really happy for the seniors. I wanted it for them to culminate all the hard work they've done trying to put this program where it's supposed to be."

Coil, who spent the last 22 years at Lowell (15 of them in cross country and track), is CP's third coach in four years.

"Everybody was like, oh, Karina (James) left. It wasn't because of Karina. It just happened to be that time," he said. "When the position opened up, I contacted (Athletics Director) Bill (Dorulla). They didn't have a Science opening at the high school, so I'm teaching seventh grade Science. After 22 years at the high school, it has been a definite change with that. This is why I came here, to put Crown Point where I thought it should be. It worked out. I told them, I'm going to do a lot of things you're not used to, it's going to a complete paradigm shift. It's not fast, it's not fancy, but it works. You've just got to give it time. Once we got to Culver (Academy), we started running well. All of a sudden, we had a breakout at sectional."

Coil's former team did make the meet, finishing 20th.

"A lot were like, why couldn't you wait another year?" he said. "With teaching and coaching, you never leave at the right time. You always leave something behind. I miss all the people, all the kids. When I left, I told the Lowell kids I'd continue to wholeheartedly cheer for you. You're still my athletes. I told the Crown Point girls that and they understood. I appreciated that. (Lowell's) got a good group coming up. They'll be fine."

Local individuals to qualify included La Porte Lila Gillisse (fifth), Illiana Christian's Ella Olthof (11th), Hobart freshman Cassandra Cohen (12th)

"We changed up my training a bit to add a little more running," Gillisse said. "I think that really helped. My main thing was to get my speed back and it's coming back more."

While most runners are easing back in training as they approach the state finals, Gillisse is headed in the other direction. The sophomore, who missed most of the season with a stress fracture, continues to ramp up the mileage.

"I worked on getting out harder," she said. "I got stuck in the pack last year and really had to push the last mile. It's very narrow in the woods. I just tried to hang on. Going into this meet, I just wanted to make it to state, to be in the top 10. I'm just glad I got to have a season. At the beginning, I didn't know if I would. I still think I can drop more time. I would love to medal. I think I can."

Olthof came close last year, when her cousin Avery advanced individually, but made it this time with about seven seconds to spare in a personal-best 19:21.2.

"It was really disappointing," Olthof said. "(Avery and I) just keep switching places the entire season. Last year, I would get tired at the end and not really push myself. I was a freshman. This year, it's, oh, I can actually stay up there. It means a lot for me to help the freshmen coming in. A bunch of my friends, coaches, family pushed me a lot more; just the support of the team, we help each other. It's really nice to have such a supportive Christian community that helps each other with the God-given talent He's provided our school with."

Avery Olthof, left, and Ella Olthof, right, of Illiana Christian race during Saturday's New Prairie Semistate. Ella finished 11th to qualify for state, while Avery was 16th.

Avery finished in 16th, two places out of qualifying.

"Avery proved last year it was possible and Ella was running just as well," Vikings coach Luke Fenneman said. "We knew if they had good days and were consistent, they'd have good chances. I hope they would be peaking for this time of season and (Ella) showed that really well. Avery was sick in the middle of the season, so she was struggling, which allowed to Ella to break out and have confidence to run her own race. Avery caught back up with her and now it's just who's going to feel better on the day. It helped that Ella did track in the spring so hd speed improved. If they get their speed to improve, the endurance will improve from the miles."

Illiana placed ninth as a team with 229.

"We get two that high up, we have to develop the next three, the next five," Fennema said. "I would like to go as a team some time. That's our next goal."

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