LOWELL -- It's been a great season to date for the Crown Point boys cross country team, which has established itself as the undisputed best team in the area and was ranked 16th in the state in last week's coaches poll.
Most coaches will caution that you don't remember what you did in August and September as you remember what you did in October and November, a refrain that takes on a different in a season where each race, each week, each day, are no sure thing.
"I'm proud of the guys," Bulldogs coach Erik Forehand said after Saturday's dominant showing in the Bob Thomas Invitational. "It's a great day to be out here racing. I'm just thankful to be going at this point of the season. I was thinking about it the other day. We're already half way through our season, and here in the summer, we didn't know if we were going to get through a week or two."
Forehand, in his first year as head coach after serving under long-time coach Keith Iddings, has been firm in enforcing protocols with his team, whether it's distancing during stretches or wearing masks prior to and after races. If something happens to impact the season, it won't be because they were lax.
"We talked about it as a team. All the guys are really healthy," he said. "We just continue to talk about being diligent at school -- wear a mask, avoid touching your face, one of the first things you do after leaving school is wash your hands for a good 20 seconds. Things are going well. This is awesome. We just don't want to get too comfortable. We also have to recognize a big part of our season isn't here yet, and that's when we want everybody to be healthy."
Though Cole Simmons, like most, isn't a big fan of masking, he knows it's essential, and it's actually a practice of sorts of him.
"I'm going into medical, so I'm going to have to get used to it," he said. "We're taking it pretty seriously. We wear them when we get to practice, take them off when we run, then put them back on when we're done. I take the mask off after warm-up, I'm like, wow, fresh air, I can breathe normal. It's great. I go straight into my cool-down. If I'm running, I have an excuse. We take every meet as if it's our last. You've got to go out and get it because you might not get another one. We've been putting in the work since February. Our practice have been sky rocketing. We're all improving by a lot. If there's no catastrophic COVID cases, we should be rolling come post-season."
Technically, there were no team champions, so Forehand let his runners try some tactical changes. While they didn't all go well, C.P. still continued its dominance, notching a modest 34 points. Lake Central was a distant second with 79, followed by Munster (90).
"We didn't really have our best team showing, so it's good that we can still win," Simmons said.
Even so, CP had five runners in the top 12 with Anthony Saberniak (fourth), Nathan Murphy (seventh), Quinton Bock (ninth) and Evan Turner (12th).
"Overall, we did pretty well," Forehand said. "We're continuing to see improvement from pretty much each of guys every week. We're still taking each race, letting boys try new things. A couple of them wanted to try something new and I said, go for it. A couple guys were a lot further back than they'd have liked, but I'd rather do it in a meet like this and learn from it if we need to."
With Highland's Lucas Guerra, the 2019 state runner-up, not competing, La Porte's Cole Raymond took advantage, winning the race comfortably in 16:06.7.
With 2019 state runner-up Lucas Guerra not running (soreness), La Porte's Cole Raymond took advantage, checking in at 16:06.7.
"I knew like two minutes before the race," Raymond said. "Coach (Corbin Slater)'s strategy was go out and get second place, then I saw him (at the start), he looked at me and said, let's get this win. "My next race against him isn't going to be until semistate so I wanted to come out and see what I had against him. I wasn't going to go out balliistic like I did the opening meet. He's in the state class, maybe even the nation, a projected state champ. It's nice to win. I really wanted to get out hard and push the pace but I didn't really get out very well. At 500 meters, I took over, not feeling the best. I was shaky, then every turn, my coach said, start surging, start gapping, then I started to get into a rhythm."
The win is the second in as many weeks for Raymond, who did the same seven days prior at Harrison (West Lafayette).
"I credit my dad," he said. "He started getting on me. The running aspect, I was there, but I didn't do the weight lifting part. I started doing the little things, and it's really shown huge benefits the past two weeks. I changed my race strategies, too. I've paid the price before. I'm just going to be smart and lay back."
Simmons was next in at 16:32.6, emitting a yell as he sprinted past La Porte's Sam Bell in the last 100 meters.
"My famous thing with my team is my kick," Simmons said. "Whenever it's a close race at the end, everyone gathers around so I have to put on for them. If it's a close race, I usually get the energy going. It was the same thing at Lake Central. The last 200, I turned it up. I'm thinking if I'm within 20 meters of someone, I've got this. It's a pretty good feeling when you pass someone that last stretch. Usually, I go out a lot slower, like eighth after the first mile. This race, I wanted to establish myself. I got out in the top three, and the halfway point, I tried to separate."
In the most exciting finish of the day, Merrillville's Zach Dunn nipped Morgan Township's Owen Thomas, 16:56.4-16:56.8, to take the Black Division race.
"It was like, this is my moment," Dunn said. "I have it in my head, I've tried so hard in the race, why stop now? I train in practice with Jeremie Lander (third place), who's a faster 800 runner. I'm never able to stick with him, but I try to his pace stuff, and it all prepares me. It helps me at the finish. The one thing I lacked as a cross country runner is a strong finish. I got beat in the same exact situation last year. It's what I've worked on the hardest. This is my first big win, so it's a major boost to my confidence that I can finally stay up there. I missed (state) by a couple places last year. I was so close, it made me push throughout the quarantine and summer."
Morgan edged Hanover Central 50-62 for low team score.
Cole Raymond of La Porte (left) won the Black Division race in Saturday's Bob Thomas Invitational at Lowell. Crown Point's Cole Simmons was the runner-up.