CEDAR LAKE -- Social distancing is a pandemic protocol off the cross country course.
On the course, it's a complete 180 for the Lake Central girls.
Five seconds separated five Indians in Saturday's Crown Point Invitational at Lemon Lake County Park and the next two were 20 seconds back.
"That group stays so close," LC coach Morgan Kleinaman said. "One girl can lead a workout on Tuesday and another girl can win the race on Saturday. That middle group is always like, boom, boom, boom coming in. If someone goes down, we always feel like we have someone who steps up to take her spot, which helps. We have between 12 and 15 girls all fighting for that top seven. The group interchanges all the time."
Lake Central, which bested the hosts 40-69 for the team title, put five in the top 10 (in succession) ans seven in the first 13, and had 12 of the fastest 22.
"It was definitely helpful to have them all race," Kleinaman said of the open-ended entries. "They push each other to see who the top seven was going to be. They work really well together and that drives them even more, knowing we don't have a set No. 1, a set No. 2."
Or No. 3 or No. 4, or, you get the idea. Krista Kulacz was sixth (21:38.02), followed closely by Taylor Kosiek (21:38.34) and freshman Addison Roth (21:38.65). Rachel Narjes (21:40.02) and Natalie Kransky (21:43.11) rounded out the top 10.
"We talked a lot about hydration this week," Kleinaman said. "It was definitely a hot one. It was our first race in the morning, so what's best for you to eat on race day? We wanted to win. We lost three girls from varsity, but we have four stud freshmen and some girls who couldn't finish running last year who fall in that group. The goal was to go out and do what we have to do as a team to win."
L.C. returned four of the top seven from the team that placed 18th at state last year, but only two of scored Saturday.
"It's definitely different, especially since we have a team of 50 girls," Kleinaman said. "It's a big team and there's a lot of new restrictions, but these girls want a season and they're doing everything in their power to make sure that we can continue to race. They know the potential we have coming off last season, so they want to get out there and show everyone what they can do."
One of the top returning runners in the area, Crown Point's Jaelyn Burgos posted a 17-second win, crossing in 20:27.58. Runner-up was Hanover Central's Madeline Kartz.
"I would've like to have done better, then again, we haven't been training with the same intensity as normal," Burgos said. "We didn't do that until mid-July. Usually, we're doing that in June. It's also super hot. I try to push myself as much as I can, but it was kind of hard mentally. I'm no too upset with the performance, but I'm also psyched for other performances. Lemon Lake is one of the hardest courses I run. Running up the hill, I was like, well, this might be my last meet. Would you rather go through that pain now and have that sense of accomplishment later or not go through the pain and tell yourself later, oh, you could have done more? It's 10 times worse than that now."
After having the coronavirus wipe out track season, Burgos spent the first part of her summer training alone. While running is a solitary endeavor, she'll attest there is something to be said for the benefits of working in a group.
"Having track would have been huge. I had a good feeling about track season, but it got taken away," Burgos said. "Normally, we go from track, we have a couple weeks off, then we go into cross country. It was super upsetting we didn't have (track), then I didn't get to see any of my teammates until July. Running by yourself is insanely hard, especially when it comes to the long runs. Doing nine, 10 miles, it always helps to have those girls to push you more. I didn't have that for a solid two, three months. The thing I kept in mind the whole time, if I didn't do it, I wouldn't be able to bounce back into everything with the girls. It's a lot more motivation to run faster."
Burgos finished 71st at the state meet last fall and while she undoubtedly wants for another trip to Terre Haute, that's a long, long way off, especially when the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 are taken into account.
"I try not to complain too much," she said. "We still have a season. We still get to race, even if we have to wear masks and have all the social distance stuff, and I'm so grateful for that. I don't know how many races we're going to get to have, but I'm glad to have whatever I have right now with my teammates. Honestly, I'm just trying to take it race by race. I'm not focusing on end goals. I don't even know if I have that end goal. If you have that taken away, it would be even more upsetting if you didn't accomplish those smaller goals. My parents and I are pretty cautious. Even if we're at a lower risk, we don't want anything to happen, just to be safe. Obviously, I don't want the season to be cancelled."
Crown Point's Jaelyn Burgos, left, and Madeline Kartz of Hanover
Central finished first and second, respectively, in Saturday's Crown
Point Invitational at Lemon Lake County Park. (Photos by Jim Peters)