Don't overthink it: Focused Politza wins New Prairie Sectional, leads Valparaiso to team title
NEW CARLISLE -- Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose.
OK, so Kaylie Politza didn't have the first clue about the Friday Night Lights reference, but the Valparaiso runner certainly knows the importance of mental clarity when it comes to races.
"This race, I was really trying to keep my mind focused," Politza said after winning Saturday's New Prairie Sectional. "I tend to overthink sometimes, get myself worked up into a frenzy. I have to keep my mind clear, make sure it doesn't get the best of me."
A week after ceding the lead late to La Porte's Brenna Sobecki in the Duneland Athletic Conference meet, Politza pulled away from a strong challenge by the Cougars' Lillian Zelasko to finish in 18:17.6.
"She's a runner," Valpo coach John Arredondo said of Politza. "She's got that 800-meter mentality. They hear the gun, they go hard. She's done it and sometimes it's bitten her. I feel like she's still learning cross country. I told her this was probably the smartest race we've ever seen her run. She ran controlled. Last week after the race, she told me, coach, as soon as the gun went off, I just didn't feel right. I said, OK, we got through it. She's a thinker. She overanalyzes everything. We focused on getting her mind right, making sure her training was feeling OK. She was even smiling and I never see Kaylie smile."
After getting zapped by Agony Hill during the New Prairie Invite, Politza used a little less aggressive approach this time and had more spring in her step late, when she pulled away to win by 15 seconds.
"It was a really fun race," she said. "We came in with a mindset to run for us, for our team, go out there and be competitive, take risks. Lillian killed it. She took it out really hard. It was awesome to have her pushing me. My last race here, Agony absolutely destroyed my legs. I came in with a little different strategy. I went out a little more conservative so I could have something for Agony and something to push hard afterward. I tend to take out races fast. It's super fun. This course requires more strategy. I have to try to hone in on that."
Politza loves the atmosphere of the course, laughing about a member of the Valpo boys sitting on a big tree branch in the woods that has New Prairie 2021 written on it, holding a big green flag, screaming and waving.
"It was pretty funny," she said. "It was really awesome to have so many people come out and support the team. I'm really grateful to have them to help me keep focused. I'm really excited for semistate here. It gets so crazy. It's really motivating to have everybody lined up around you."
Valpo edged Chesterton, 40-44, for the team title, with La Porte (65), Portage (111) and New Prairie (137) also qualifying for the Chesterton Regional.
"We wanted to bounce back from last week. We didn't feel we ran very well, so we wanted to go after it and see what happens," Arredondo said. "It fit into our training to race. We didn't hold anything back. We're not healthy, but we're getting there. We've just got to get better. We've got big goals in my mind down the line. A big part was also running on New Prairie. We're going to be back in two weeks. It'll be totally different, but the more experience we can get some of the girls here, even Kaylie, the better. We've got to get you out there."
The Vikings put five in the top 12 with Cheyanne Stock seventh, Lillian Maldia ninth, Grace Thomas 11th and Brooke Byvoets 12th.
"Grace ran out of her mind," Arredondo said. "Lillian, Brooke, we challenged them. We've got to close some gaps. Cheyanne's improving every week, bouncing back from an injury. It was nice to see all the girls very happy. I couldn't be happier."
Chesterton, sitting out three regulars for rest, placed four in the top 10 with Bailey Ranta fourth, Catherine White fifth, Alyssa Dunlap eighth and Bree Gentry tenth.
"The goal is just to advance and go to the next one," Trojans coach Lindsay Moskalick said. "We did pretty good without our third and fourth runners. We're trying some strategy this round, giving other girls an opportunity to race in the post-season, to see how they do. Bailey and Catherine asked to stay in. We're thinking big picture. Last year, every meet, we had to go hard. The state meet, it didn't go as planned. I raced them too much. We did 10 races and we can't expect them to be on every single race. Now we're thinking about the final part. Each one's a stepping stone."
Moskalick was happy to see Ranta (19:29.2) come back well after struggling in the DAC meet.
"Bailey rebounded nicely," she said. "We talked to her about being patient, more conservative, having fun with it. The race isn't won in the first mile, it's won in the last mile. That's what we're working on, hanging back a little bit."
Zelasko (18:32.7) broke the school course record previously held by Rachel Thompson, the last Cougar state qualifier prior to her last year.
"Last year, I was so close. This year, I was like, it has to happen," Zelasko said. "We talked about it after the invite, like at sectonals, you can do it. I was just going to go for it and it worked out. I wanted to get out hard. I started leading the race. I was like, let's just see how long I can lead it. If I led the race and she beat me at the end, I still got what I wanted. I'm excited to see what happens later on in the season."
Sobecki (third) and Lila Gillisse (sixth) led La Porte.
"Last week, we got out a little slow," Slicers coach Corbin Slater said. "We're kind of in an awkward phase in the season. The next two weeks, we're probably not going to beat Valpo or Chesterton. We're kind of in this no man's land where we can take those risks. I always create mock meets based on ratings for the season, and every girl exceeded what they were supposed to do."
Valparaiso's Kaylie Politza, left, won Saturday's New Prairie Sectional, with the Cougars' Lillian Zelasko second.
Valparaiso's Grace Thomas, left, and Cheyanne Stock helped the Vikings to the New Prairie Sectional team title Saturday, placing 11th and seventh, respectively.