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Chesterton Regional: Ranta rises again; Wheeler continues to climb

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP -- "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."

Known for printing Bible verses on her arms before cross country races, Bailey Ranta could've rolled with Deuteronomy 32:35/Romans 12:19 for Saturday's Chesterton Regional at a blustery Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

The Chesterton junior rebounded from a third-place finish in the prior week's New Prairie Sectional to finish first in 18 minutes, 33.5 seconds.

"I didn't want people to think I was where I was last week," Ranta said. "I had a bad race, so I wanted to come back and own my name to it, that I run this region. This morning, I was kind of doubting myself a little bit, then I had to quickly change my mindset that I could win this, trust my ability, trust that God has me. I felt great this week. I got a lot of sleep. Last week, I didn't get that much sleep. My body needed that re-fueling."

Ranta crossed the line with a margin of 5.7 seconds from sectional champion Kaylie Politza of Valparaiso.

"I kind of wanted to break her at the mile point. The second lap, I started to spread it out," Ranta said. "I really try to listen to the crowd behind me. If they say, 'Go Kaylie,' I know I have to keep pushing, to separate the gap more. I hope I can win semistate, I hope I can get close to or beat (Lowell's) Karina (James). I think I have a really good chance of beating her. I'm really fired up."

Trojans coach Lindsay Moskalick expected the bounce-back performance for her top runner.

"We talked about that all week," she said. "Bailey's worked for this part of the season. She should be up there. She even said I'm going to show that I should be up there. She was pumped up for this race. She knows with each week we're getting closer and closer to the end goal, which is the state meet. She performed just how she's supposed to."

Chesterton (54) won the team title, followed by Wheeler (59). Valparaiso, running without No. 2 Cheyanne Stock, was third (94), La Porte fourth (116) and Portage fifth (131).

"We're the dream team, for real," Ranta said.

Ciara Bonner (10th, 19:51.6), Catherine White (12th, 19:55.4) and Bree Gentry (13th, 19:58.8) closed ranks for the Trojans with Alyssa Dunlap 23rd.

"As tough as each week gets, regionals are still a little strung out. It's not like the semistate," Moskalick said. "Our two, three and four, talked about packing up and working together, that this is the meet to do it. That's what they're capable of doing. Alyssa's just knocking on that door where she's going to have that race where it all connects for her. We're putting the puzzle together. We're almost done with the puzzle. Hopefully these last two meets, the puzzle will be complete."

Wheeler's finish was its best in program history.

"We're going against Chesterton and Valpo, big schools four times our size, but our seven all believe in themselves," Bearcats coach Ben Kosal said. "All four coaches have been the telling girls, particularly early in the summer, that we're going to state. The closer and closer we get, we're starting to believe what we've been telling them and when teenage kids get that, anything can happen. They're just having fun. They're taking it seriously but not too seriously, and that's important in this day and age."

Emma Hellwege (fifth, 19:22) led the Bearcats, followed by Hailey Orosz (eighth, 19:42.2), but without taking them for granted, Kosal credited the runner-up finish, Wheeler's best regional showing ever to the group called 'The Three Amigos,' 13-year old freshmen Lucca Okeley (16th) and Elise Byers (17th) and sophomore Emily Enright (20th).

"They catapulted us," Kosal said. "Every single one of the girls stepped up and did exactly what they needed to do," Kosal said. "Every single one PR'd. That's fantastic running under windy conditions. Emma's had some tough weeks that she's put behind her. I don't think there's any pressure on us. They're running confidently. They're having great races, trusting the training we've done all summer. It's going to be electric next week"

Valpo struggled without Stock, usual No. 3 Grace Thomas sliding to 40th. The Vikings' No. 2, Abi Artherhults, was 25th.

Ella Bensz matched her sectional placing for La Porte.

"I didn't do well here last year, so I wanted to make an impression today," she said.

The fifth and final qualifying team for the New Prairie Semistate wasn't determined until long after the race due to a scoring error that initially counted New Prairie as a team. Once it was removed from the team points, the results reversed Morgan Township, which was initially fifth, and Portage. The Cherokees will instead take four individuals.

New Prairie's Lilly Zelasko headed that list in third (18:54.2).

"I had a good race. I was happy with how I raced," she said. "I was trying to pretty much gauge off of (Ranta and Politza) for how I was doing, to try to catch up to them. I didn't, but hopefully next time."

South Central's Adelaide Young Brust (15th) qualified for her fourth semistate, hoping to break through in her final try for state.

"Today was just fine. I'm moving on, which we expected," she said. "I definitely was hoping to be a little faster just to prove to myself that I could get down more to that state time. Again, it's not the week to go crazy. I've got to save some for next week, which is the big one."

La Porte's Ella Bensz, left, and Emma Hellwege

of Wheeler placed fourth and fifth, respectively,

in Saturday's Chesterton Regional.

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