A good mix: Lake Central girls cross country teams blending senior experience with freshman talent
LOWELL -- One of the best things about cross country is the watch doesn't lie.
The fastest runners run, so there isn't much gray area or a question of younger versus older.
It's a good problem to have for Lake Central girls coach Morgan Kleinaman, who is blending a mix of freshmen and seniors.
"We didn't graduate anybody who ran postseason (last year)," Kleinaman said. "Now we've got three freshmen in varsity. It was an adjustment. The seniors now were my last big team to come in and make varsity right away, and it's happening again. They're pushing our seniors, for sure, that healthy competition to keep their position. I tell them the freshmen are only going to make you better."
The age range was evident in the recent Bob Thomas Invitational, where the Indians put three freshmen in the top nine, along with a senior, backed by a freshman, junior and senior to round out the top seven in a 37-65 victory over runner-up Crown Point.
"It's a good group of role models," Kleinaman said. "The senior group had three or four on varsity as freshmen. They know how talented they can be, and they want to keep that tradition going. We have some right on the border, too. We knew they were going to be talented, but it's a good surprise to have. We go down to seven, then it's probably a 20-second difference between seven and eight. It goes all the way to 11, 12."
Freshman Chloe Neal was runner-up to Hobart's Cassie Cohen in 19:18.9, with seniors Nikki Vollrath (20:02.5) and Addison Roth (20:09.5) fourth and fifth, and frosh Brigid Crowley (20:21.2) ninth. Junior Mackenzie Smith (18th, 20:51.1) completed LC's scoring, with senior Sydney Churilla (19th, 20:56.2) and ninth grader Macey Thompson (21th, 21:03.3) close behind.
"It's a big jump from middle school to high school," Kleinaman said. "They did well. I feeling like they're racing smart, competing with each other and paying attention to who's around them and competing with them. It started off at Lavern Gibson (the state finals course). I feel like that helped, being eye-opening for them because it's such a big race with all Indy schools. I think it helped them realize quickly."
Kleinaman credits the development of the middle school programs in cultivating not only interest and preparing runners for the step up to high school.
"We ease everybody into it," she said. "We're really trying to merge the programs, talking to them more so it's not as big if a jump when they come to us. They're enlightened on what to expect when they get here."
The team depth's and a less intensive schedule becoming the norm in cross country also helps ease the transition for newcomers.
"I'm glad they made that switch," Kleinaman said. "Teams are tempoing, holding out kids. We ran Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It's changed so much."
Addison Roth, Brigid Crowley and Chloe Neal of Lake Central lead the pack at Lowell's Bob Thomas Invitational. The Indians lineup features a mix of freshmen and seniors.