NEW CARLISLE -- The Class 3A match-up between Highland's Lucas Guerra and Izaiah Steury of Angola in Saturday's Class 3A race at the New Prairie Invitational was billed as a state finals preview, pitting two of the top three returning finishers from last year's race in Terre Haute.
The Hornets junior stole the show, running away to a course-record 15:08.2, breaking the 2007 mark of 15:13 held by Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Famer Mike Fout (La Porte), that year's state and Foot Locker National champion.
"I was still within range when we got to the downhill, he just flew up that hill and I was like, geez, dude," said Guerra, the 2019 state runner-up who finished second in 15:53.7. "I told coach about what happened and he said what we're trying to get you ready for is that change in pace mid-race," Guerra said. "At the state meet, the 3K, everyone was together, there was one pace change and (Lowell's Gabe Sanchez and I) gapped everybody. That's what happened today. I've got to be ready for that, be ready to put the pace down and keep on going. I wasn't expecting him to do it. I wasn't ready for it. He was able to keep on going. He saw the opportunity and he took it out. It took me by shock."
Steury, whose background as an Ethiopian orphan adopted by an American family was chronicled this weekend by the Indianapolis Star's David Woods, placed seventh in the state as a sophomore, established himself as the runner to beat with the dominant performance.
"That comes from a hard off-season, I guess, running all the summer track meets," Guerra said. "Everything that happens now is because of the hard work you put in, in the spring. We had a really fast start, 4:38. At the 1.1 mile, he got a little ahead, he went with it and started pushing hard. That's where everything changed. I felt smooth, I tried picking up the pace but I just couldn't. My arms got heavy. I never have a good showing here. This is when we change phases in training. But I felt good going in. I really thought it was going to be a good meet."
Izaiah Steury of Angola broke the New Prairie
course record previously held by Mike Fout in
Saturday's Class 3A race, running 15:08.2.
New Prairie coach John Arndt had a watch on the race and knew Steury was on the brink of something special.
"That opening 400!" he said. "The lead guys were 53 seconds at 400 meters. That kid has made a huge step forward. I caught him at the tree line, about 450 meters to go, I'm like, '13:45, you've got 450 to go.' If he knew his math, he had a minute-and-a-half to go. I wanted to him to be able to give it an honest effort. He's got to be one of the No. 1 dudes in the nation."
The upside for Guerra?
"I'd much rather have that happen now than state," he said.
The downside? He won't face Steury again before then and his competition locally has not challenged him.
"I'm not upset. It just gives me something to work on," Guerra said. "It's definitely something I needed, something to motivate myself with, and that's what I'm going to use it for. People have been chasing after me this whole season, but it's not like it's something I'm not used to. I was chasing Gabe, Geno (Christofanelli) my whole career. I'm more used to that than winning every meet. I'll do the same thing with this another six weeks, running by myself pretty much, to get myself ready. I'll keep on my toes to make sure I'm ready because it's going to happen again."
No doubting Thomas
Morgan Township's Owen Thomas was the only local individual winner in the boys races, taking a 19.5-second victory over Porter County Conference rival Tyler Hachey of Washington Township with a 16:38.2.
"The way our conference works, we have what's called the two round-robin meets, then the championship is (Saturday)," Thomas said. "I won the first one, then he won the second one, but I kind of saved myself for this. I really couldn't be happier. This is my first big win. I'm the kind of person who's never really satisfied so I wish I had won by more. I've just got to bring it all for the rest of the season."
Thomas trailed by 25, 30 meters in the
Lucas Guerra of Highland was runner-up in the Class 3A race in Saturday's New Prairie Invitational.
early stages, but trusted his approach and his training.
"I kind of started to panic as I saw the group emerge, then I just stayed calm," he said. "I know a lot of these guys fade off because they start off too fast and that's just not how I like to race. My kind of racing style is I like to go out a little slower, more conservative, because I know a lot of these guys have a stronger kick than me. I like to start my kick with about half-a-mile to a K out. That works pretty well. There's also the mental aspect, when you pass someone, it hurts them mentally."
Taking the lead coming out of the woods, Thomas resisted a challenge at Agony Hill from teammate Josh Kutkiewicz, who took third.
"That's kind of when I knew," Thomas said. "We got to this turn and I couldn't hear any footsteps any more. That's when I started to pick up the pace. Josh came sprinting up the hill next to me. Josh is a bigger kid and hills are one of my bigger strengths. I knew I could hold him off."
The Cherokees put their top five in the first 13 to capture the team title with a modest 30 points, 54 in front of Rossville. The Cherokees look to extend their PCC championship run to six next Saturday and have their sights set on a deep post-season run.
"Morgan Township being one of the smaller schools in Indiana, we've never made it to state as a team," Thomas said. "We've been to semistate, had a couple individuals to state. That's one of my big goals, also running in college, but it's team first, team first, team first."
Raymond second in 4A
La Porte's Cole Raymond took second in the Class 4A race behind Penn's Mario Retzloff, 15:55.8 to 16:00.1.
"I knew he was good. He ran really good last week," Raymond said. "He made some strong moves on me, I tried to break him, make him go away. We were even at the road, I saw he caught up, he threw in another surge, and I ran out of gas. He had it the last 200 and I didn't. I usually have something left. At Harrison, it was warm and I flew late. If I'd had that, I probably would have won."
Raymond credited Retzloff for responding to his repeated challenges.
"I'm pleased with how I ran," he said. "I wanted to go from the gun, push the pace. I thought was my strength," he said. "I put in a hard surge after two miles in and he went right up on me. He sat on me, I did a lot of the work and he ended up winning. I'm proud of the moves I made, but if I had held back, was patient, I might've had more left. It's OK. It's not the state meet yet. I'm trying new things. The last two races, it's been, just go out and push hard. We preach, when you make a move, you think you can break anyone. If I had broken him, it would've been a great race."
Chesterton shakes up the ranks
Crown Point has run the show locally, but Chesterton put its flag in the ground formally announcing its arrival as a team to be reckoned with, posting 78 points, 16 better than Crown Point.
"I think the weather had a lot to do with it," Trojans coach Tim Ray said of temperatures around 50 degrees at race time. "It's a post-season type atmosphere. When it's 80 degrees, in back of the head, you're like, October's not going to be like that. Being a teacher, I like to grade kids, and I gave us about a B-plus or so, There's always room for improvement. Streeter's started to run with more confidence and Dolson's kind of followed him around a little bit. We can't let the highs get too high or the lows too low. It's Still september, but by the same token, in these conditions, this is a moment to get out and compete. They missed track season. You realize every day is kind of a blessing because you just don't know."
Matthew Streeter (fifth, 16:14.2) and Cole Dolson (seventh, 16:23.9) gave Chesterton single-digit numbers while three teammates chipped in with snug top 25 efforts -- Josh Dennington (20th, 16:47.2), Jackson Tuck (22nd, 16:48.2) and Evan O'Connor (24th, 16:49.4). A fourth, Josh Tuck (27th, 16:53.6), wasn't far off.
"In the grand scheme of things, I knew we would be in the hunt for a top five finish in semistate," Ray said. "Our top seven ran at Marion, and we beat a couple of ranked teams. For us, it's just a confidence thing. We have two guys back from our top seven. For our younger guys, it's a matter of maturation of how the season goes, logging in more miles, just the different level of intensity from reserves to varsity. It's taking them a little while, but they're getting there. This is definitely a step in the right direction. I'm surprised we came out on top."
Ray has played it close to the vest in the opening half of the season, only running his top seven three times now, but Streeter feels good about their chances.
"We've been confident all season," Streeter said. "We came into this race confident. We know we're a good team. The team came in looking to win, Cole and I came in looking to be in the top 10, and we did that pretty well. This meet doesn't matter a whole lot. We know we have to do the same thing at semistate and state. This is just a step in the right direction. Everybody's stepping up. We packed up well. It's another confidence booster that all we've been doing is paying off. We're all happy, but there's still a lot of room to improve."