HIGHLAND -- With a wave format in use for Saturday's Highland Invitational, the first runner across the finish line didn't necessarily mean first place.
Griffith's Jon Baxter ran in the second flight, so he didn't he'd actually won the race until Panthers coach Shannon Scheidel came back to the team camp with the good news.
"I didn't know what to say," Baxter said. "It was crazy. I did good. I know that. I knew it was going to be good. I was feeling better than the other meets. I said, guys, if it's not good, it's going to be fun."
As it turns out, it was both, as Baxter clocked a 10-second personal best of 16:15.3, the prior time coming in last year's semistate, where he qualified for state. He also clipped over 25 seconds off his finish in last year's Highland Invite and a whole minute from just three weeks ago.
"That's fast," he said. "We ran mile loops, which helped out a lot. It was me, (Illiana Christian's Justin Van Prooyen) to my left and (Munster's Ari Arzumanian) to my right, we were just going. (Van Prooyen) started pulling away from me, I just came back to him. He was right there all the time. I didn't want to let him go. The first hill, I was in like fifth or sixth. Guys were just booking it off the start. I took the hill and went to first. Hills are my strong suit. Last year, I got passed where I passed (him). I got good motivation from my teammates."
Scheidel said the tactic was the same as it was for last year's sectional, with one big difference.
"He actually did it," she said. "I told him when he got across the street to take off. He actually listened."
The staggered start, with half the field starting two-and-a-half minutes before the second half, wasn't the first time Baxter had raced in a wave format.
"Girls on the Run, I ran one time, it had big waves, I started way in the back," he said. "I didn't even feel the wind. Maybe that was part of the wave. One mile, two mile, I had to keep passing so I wouldn't get boxed out. That's part of the con of the wave start. The pro is there is always someone there."
Lake Central's Logan Russell took second in Saturday's Highland Invitational,
helping the Indians win the team title.
While some teams used the meet as an opportunity to rest their regulars and race some reserves, Lake Central's Jeff Rhody went with his usual top seven.
"We ran everybody," Rhody said. "Our one and two didn't run at Lowell. They had the ACT. They looked a little rusty. They needed a race. They looked better. With some of the cancellations and restrictions, we wanted to get some people in to run. We usually go to Culver (Academy). We don't usually pull off this week. We don't have mid-week races. This is our sectional course. I wanted to have a good race, have them feel confident on it when they come back."
LC put four in the top 11, led by runner-up Logan Russell (16:21.4) to post a total of 48, less than half of runner-up Valpo (103). Zakaria Mohiuddin was seventh, Hayden Podlin ninth and Vince Vanderveen 11th.
"There's always places to improve, some good races, some bad races," Rhody said. "You just hope everybody has a good race day when it counts. This acutally helps us make adjustments. It gives us some time to go back to the lab and work on some things. You'd like to have everybody together, but it's still a race, it's still the same distance. Here's a lesson to learn, don't coast, oh, I got this. We knew (Baxter), but unless you know who the individuals are, it's hard to put them all in the 'right' race."
Highland became a popular destination when the Culver Academy Invite was cancelled due to the pandemic. On Monday, Athletics Director Ryan Harrington implemented the wave start to distribute the 500-plus field.
"It was the challenge of having a lot of kids in a race, how do we put them on the line and do it safely," Harrington said. "Did we go over, too cautious on things? Potentially, yeah, but I'd rather be too safe than not enough. I liked the wave start. It's something different, something doable. One-hundred forty kids on a line, 165 feet (to the next flight), I'll do that all day long. I can sleep at night knowing I did the right thing for the kids. It could be cleaned up. We'll sit down, take a look at it, and try to make it better for next year."
Rhody credited Harrington to putting the changes in place in short time.
"Ryan did a heck of job making adjustments to make it safe for everybody," he said. "It was on the fly. It was a fun day to get out. This meet got huge when Culver cancelled and everybody decided, hey, let's go to Highland. We've got 46 kids. I hate it because some of them only run one, two races. They're putting the effort into it, we want to reward them with a race. Some didn't, God bless 'em, that's their program."
Harrington has done numerous triathlons, which Todd Henderlong of T&H Timing clocks, so he knew Henderlong could handle the format.
"There's a lot of carrots out there," he said. "There are pros and cons to it. We have to weigh those out. Overall, I think everybody enjoyed it. If we use the wave concept here at Highland, we can serve more student athletes in a positive way. Everybody's working. It's a different 100 percent but it's still 100 percent for them. We want to give them that opportunity."