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Built for the elements: Valparaiso, Anderson navigate the rain and mud to win New Prairie Regional

NEW CARLISLE -- With ribbons in their hair and mud on their legs, local girls cross country runners had to brave the elements for a second week in a row Saturday.

"The strategy was just to be tougher than everyone else," Valparaiso coach John Arredondo said. "It's muddy for everyone, but during the race, you're going to have to decide where you want to be position wise, make sure you're on the dry spots. Next to the really muddy spots, there were a lot of dry spots. If you were with a group of people, you were stuck in the middle."

Valpo shrugged off the rain and slop in the New Prairie Regional, hanging a tidy total of 45 points to easily capture the team title, 57 points clear of runner-up Penn.

"That was awesome," Arredondo said. "We told them in the huddle we're not looking at times, we're looking at places. You've got to beat the people around you. We just wanted to come out and work hard. All week, we just told the girls to believe. We felt we were the best team up here and we wanted to prove it. The north doesn't get a lot of respect and we want to make sure we're in the conversation. We still have some things to work on. We've got to close gaps. But we've won this thing before with 100, 120 points."

Freshman Whitney Anderson, the runner-up to Penn's Mary Eubank in the AAA race at the New Prairie Invitational, went one better, winning in 18:51.6, a couple seconds ahead of Northridge's Dakotah Moore. Eubank was third.

"I was trying to stay in the non-muddy parts so I wouldn't slip," Anderson said. "There were very muddy parts. I knew if I got in those, I'd fall down. It's easier when you're alone. There's more room to move around. I was just trying to get to a position I want to be in at the end so I didn't have to do as much work at the finish. Going up Agony Hill, I tried to gain some ground. I didn't know any of the other girls, so I was surprised. When I saw the finish, I just tried to sprint because there's only a little bit left. I kept hearing someone. I feel like as do more races, I learn more strategies. It's become easier now. It's really exciting."

Arredondo praised Anderson for another veteran performance that belies her age.

"I'm lucky. I have always had some good talent," he said. "She's unflappable. She races beyond her age. She was just measuring those girls up. She's an assassin. She's like Logan (Ferngren), Ava (Gilliana), Kaylie (Politza). I call them killers. (Portage state champion thrower) Tori Bliss was a sweetheart, but you get her in that ring, she was a totally different person."

Valpo put three in the top seven with Liv Hatch fourth and Elizabeth Ehrhardt seventh. Anika Anderson placed 19th and Angela Coulopoulos 21st to complete the top five.

"(This) was a big confidence booster a couple of our runners," Arredondo said. "Liv Hatch, that was amazing. We privately talked, I said you're a top 10 kid. I didn't know she was top five kid. Elizabeth wasn't even in the top 50 last year. Our back end, Anika Anderson, Angela Coulopoulos, the seniors, we had that talk, this is your last time running New Prairie, make it count."

Arredondo has targeted a podium (top five) state finish all season and hasn't budged on that.

"I think we're right there," he said. "Things have to go right for us. It's going to be the toughest race we've had all year, as it should be. I would love to get on the podium. As I tell them every race, as long as they can look me in the eye and say I did everything I could, that's all that matters to me. If we that and get 20th, I'll be happy. But to get some hardware, that would be a lot of fun."

* Lake Central qualified in fourth, scoring 138, bolstered by a fifth-place finish by senior Addie Roth in a personal-best 19:08. Nikki Vollrath crossed 29th and Brigid Crowley 35th, Mackenzie Smith (41st) and Sydney Churilla (44th) completing a two-to-five pack separated by 30 seconds.

"We were excited and grateful to advance," Indians coach Morgan Kleinaman said. "We were very excited about Addie's finish. We were very proud of the girls for all stepping up and leaving it all out on the course."

* Abby Trader was part of four state-qualifying teams as a Portage runner and will now return there for the first time as a coach as her Indians edged Chesterton for the fifth and final berth, 196-202.

"The last two homeroom days, we watched the DVD of 2019, we watched my junior year from 2010," Trader said. "Our assistants, Emily Craigin and Brisa Martinez, ran on the 2019 team. The program wouldn't be where it is without coach (Jay) White and coach (Chuck) Heimberg, that mentorship. (Boys) coach (Tom) Erickson is a friend and a colleague. That's meant a lot. There's a lot going on in my life right now. To have those girls behind me the whole way is really, really special. I was proud, no matter what. They ran so well, even if they didn't qualify, I wasn't going to be upset because they killed it. They showed up and took it for themselves."

Madisyn Mikels (18th) paced Portage, followed by Hannah Walsh (33rd) and a tight trio of Briana Krapf (55th), Madilyn Fehlman (56th) and Brooklynn Reed (62nd).

"They ran well," Trader said. "Our four-five came in together. Our real MVP was Brooklyn Reed. We've needed a five all season and she put it together. She was the saving grace really. This is one of the hardest working groups we've had in a long time. No drama, no nothing. Realistically, there were four bubble teams, Crown Point, Northridge, Chesterton and us. We scored it at the sectional and we knew it was going to be really tight. We were competing pretty hard. We talked in the locker room this morning, you don't remember the easy victories, you remember the ones that were hard fought. It was a hard fought victory so they're going to remember it for a long time."

Trader has shared stories of famed shoe tree at the course and is excited to visit it again with them along with her.

"They're really excited about the shoe tree," she said. "They're ready to put their mark there. That was a big goal. I've got a lot of shoes down there, but it's not so much about my shoes as it is them being able to have that moment for themselves. They've got a lot of people rooting for them, telling them what it was like. I've always said we can't do it for them. They put it all together the last couple weeks and did exactly what we wanted."

Region runners to advance individually were: Krista Sytsma (Kankakee Valley, sixth); Cassie Cohen (Hobart, ninth); Emma Bell (Kankakee Valley, 12th); Elora Bliss (Munster, 13th); Ella Olthof (Illiana Christian, 14th); Faith Spain (La Porte, 15th); Avery Olthof (Illiana Christian, 17th); Ali Sierazy (Chesterton, 20th); Jessica Martin (Chesterton, 22nd); Nadia Brumbaugh (Crown Point, 27th) and Destiny Lopez (Crown Point, 28th).

Whitney Anderson, left, won the New Prairie Regional on Saturday, while Liv Hatch was fourth, leading Valparaiso to the team title. (Photo courtesy of Tim Anderson and Rob Cavanaugh)

Portage's Madisyn Mikels and Chesterton's Ali Sierazy and Jessica Martin run during Saturday's New Prairie Regional.

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