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A new shark in the water: Valpo frosh Anderson quickly establishing herself at the front of the pack

NEW CARLISLE -- Her young face belies the fight within Whitney Anderson.

"She's a shark, she's definitely a hunter," Valparaiso girls cross country John Arredondo said. "She's a competitor beyond her years."

Those years are just 14, but Anderson, a Vikings freshman, is already going stride for stride with the top runners in the state, as she did again at Saturday's New Prairie Invitational.

"It's my first time (running here)," Anderson said. "It was a little intimidating. There are a lot of people here. It's probably the biggest meet I've ever run in. I saw the finish line and I knew I kind of had to go. I wanted to be done, so I started sprinting."

Anderson and Penn senior Mary Eubank dueled in an all-out dash to the finish line, Eubank getting there a nose sooner, 18:21.2-18:21.4, to capture the title.

"I saw her measuring," Arredondo said. "It's nice to see her have to really work, to really want it, and she wanted it. She can shift gears. (Eubank)'s very good. The way (Anderson) finished is how she and Libby (Erhardt) have been finishing all year. She sprints past Libby usually. They didn't (here), but neat thing has been watching them work together. At state (preview), they worked the lead pack together. It was really awesome to watch. They ran beyond their years. I always wonder if she's working her hard enough. She never has that stressed look. Sometimes it doesn't even look like she's breathing hard."

As well as Anderson moved on land, she might even be better in water. She began swimming competitively around the age of 7, then started running in middle school with the Union Township cross country team.

"(The sports) help each other," she said. "I did road races for fun. I only really started to running to train for swimming, then realized I liked it, so I kept doing it."

Anderson won the middle school state title, leading her UT team to the state meet. She was aldo the 1,600-meter champion in track.

"It helps that she's a good swimmer," Arredondo said. "When she cross trains, we know she's working really hard in the pool. The training's very similar."

A family move landed Anderson with the Vikings.

"We were looking for a new house and we found a great one in the Valpo district," she said. "We thought a bigger school would probably be better for me academically."

The addition was obviously a big one for a Vikings squad that graduated its top two finishers from the state meet -- where they placed seventh -- in Cheyanne Stock and Grace Thomas.

"She and (Erhardt) have become training partners," Arrendondo said. "A lot of races, they've been one-two, right next to each other. (Anderson) had shin splints early, but we adjusted. We tend to keep our freshmen at lower mileage unless they have a strong running backgorund."

Being the newbie can be tough for a student and an athlete, though Anderson said her teammates have made it easy for her.

"I didn't really know what to expect," she said. "It's way different now that I'm in high school. I was a little nervous at first, but when I met them, I wasn't because they were all so welcoming and nice to me. they're all really great teammates. they always included me. always nice to have someone to run with. It really helps I knew a bunch of people on the (club) swim team who went to Valpo. It's really fun."

The Vikings won the Class AAA race with 77 points, followed by Morgan Township (104), which bumped up from Class A. Erhardt (sixth), Liv Hatch (13th), Meredith Isley (38th) and Ena Gilliana (77th) also scored for the Vikings, whose top seven included four seniors.

"We needed a meet like this," Arredondo said. "If we had lost, I wouldn't have been disappointed. We haven't really faced competition. You can't help who you have to run against. You just beat whoever's out there. We have the potential to medal. I don't think we're top three, maybe top four, but we're in the mix for that fifth spot. We have some gaps to close. There's the first two, then Liv. We need that ocean to close up. If it does, now we've got an opportunity."

Valparaiso freshman Whitney Anderson, left, finished second, just behind Mary Eubank of Penn, in Saturday's New Prairie Invitational Class AAA race.

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