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Making history: Morgan boys claim school's first state berth; Valpo, Chesterton run to team titles

NEW CARLISLE -- Many had tried, but none had succeeded, at least not until Saturday.

Perennial small school power Morgan Township finally broke through the semistate barrier with a fourth-place finish that earned the program its first state berth as well as the school's first trip to state in any boys sport.

"I'm so proud," Cherokees senior Owen Thomas said. "I knew going into this race, I was feeling really good. We were all tapered super well. We were still springy. We were all in super good spirits. To see Josh come in with a huge PR, I knew we were in good shape. Everyone ran their absolute hearts out -- that's all you can ever ask for. I really can't even form the words. Honestly, I don't even think it's really set in yet. It's so crazy. We did it!"

Thomas (seventh), Josh Kutkiewicz (13th) and Ty Ivanyo (29th) set the table for Morgan, which took fourth with 149 points.

"They've worked really hard," MT coach Bob Witt said. "We were close a few years back. It was just trying to get them to believe that a small school can compete against the big schools. They ran a great summer, they built on it, and they believed. We've had a few injuries, and with a small school, it's tough to put it all together. It's been fun. It's a great group. They ran a perfect race."

It took five for Morgan to pull it off, but Kutkiewicz's personal-best 16:35 may have made the biggest difference.

"At the PCC, I came in 16:45. We've been practicing all season for this," Kutkiewicz said. "We've wanted to be the first to make it to state. It feels amazing."

Morgan will join a local group that includes Valparaiso (90), Chesterton (121), La Porte (129) and Crown Point (176), which topped Munster (187) for the last spot.

"It really was even more of a team effort than last week," Vikings coach Aaron Crague said. "The top three ran great. We had a really nice pack, a nice mix of front running and depth. That was huge for us. Looking at a lot of teams around the area, some had maybe one, but not the other. We talked about it before. We fell short last year, our season ended a week earlier. We were very young and immature. We told them, this is not good enough. We've got to step it up, both in physicality as well as mentality."

Jimmy Dillabaugh's third-place finish led the way for Valpo.

"There were a lot of emotions going into it," Dillabaugh said. "Not making it to state last year, we didn't want to end this year with more heartbreak. I went for it."

Dillabaugh was backed by fellow senior Joel Bryant (11th) and a trio of freshmen -- Mason Nobles (18th), Sam Sienkowski (41st) and Thomas Krueger (46th).

"From where we were last year to what these guys have done, it's a credit to their hard work," Crague said. "We ran a lot more mature. There were a lot more veteran-type races. The guys look like they've been around the block a time or two. Last year, we were all over the place. I'm proud of how they came back. They're the ones out there putting in the miles. This is all for them."

A few weeks earlier, Chesterton coach Tim Ray probably wouldn't have held his breath on a runner-up finish.

"With La Porte and Valparaiso kind of dominating the scene around here, we knew there were anywhere between eight and 10 teams on any given day for those last four spots," Ray said. "The message has always been, worry about you, do the best you can, and they did. In any sport, if have consistent season, it's rare. It just is. We lose some seniors, we don't know how it's going to gel, who's going to step up as leaders. They had a great summer, but we get a couple guys banged up, things happen, and is there time to piece it together? There are lot of integral parts that have to mesh, and it seemed like it took us a while to get there."

Cole Dolson paced Chesterton in ninth with Jackson Tuck 23rd, Bobby Berger 40th, Evan O'Connor 42nd and Josh Tuck 44th, the latter trio separated by two seconds.

"Cole ran really well," Ray said. "The rest of the guys have been consistent and just ran consistent. We start the season out, well, maybe we can be here. Then those goals change. The goal is to get out. The past couple weeks, it kind of came together just in time."

With the trio of individual champion Cole Raymond, Jay Pillai (ninth) and Brayden Sobecki (23rd), La Porte had bigger aspirations than third, but the bottom line was moving on.

"We wanted to win," coach Corbin Slater said. "Those guys have been all in. They had conversations, second, third, Cole's like, why would we even show up? They just had that in their mindset all season. They're dogs. It's seemed like every season, we've had that mid-season lull, and it's hard to get back that mindset. They shut that down right away. If we had an off race, they don't even allow themselves to think that negativity. It's just move on to the next race. I know they're bummed they didn't win, but I think they can hold their heads high."

Squarely on the bubble, Crown Point jumped for joy as Munster was announced seventh. The Mustangs won the regional.

"It's something we've been shooting for all season," Bulldogs coach Erik Forehand said. "Things didn't go so well in sectional, regional, so I'm just happy for these guys to be able to bounce back and do what they did. There was a lot of chatter about being confident in yourself, believing. I just didn't want them to lose hope. Anything can happen at semistate and I'm happy we came out on the side of advancing. I'm going to try to let my heart calm down a little bit here and soak this in."

Weston Hulen was 10th for CP with Nathan Murphy 28th and Cameron Zimmerman 48th.

"Weston was key. That kept our score a little lower," Forehand said. "We knew our fifth was going to have to come in around 70th, 80th place."

The state berth is the Bulldogs' ninth in a row, extending the fourth-longest streak in the state behind Carmel, Columbus North and Bloomington North.

Owen Thomas, left, paced Morgan Township to a fourth-place finish

in Saturday's New Prairie Semistate, helping the Cherokees earn the

school's first state berth in any sport.

"We talked about keeping the streak alive," Forehand said.

In the girls race, Chesterton blitzed the field with a tidy score of 50 to repeat as champions.

"All season, we've been talking about the final two weeks -- that's what we've been focusing on," Trojans coach Lindsay Moskalick said. "They came and got the job done. They did what they needed to do. Advancing on to the next level's always the goal. We've got our eyes set on (state). Last year, we won with 110. It's always close. That's always the assumption with semistate. I didn't the expect score to be that much of a difference."

The Trojans stacked the top 16 with Bailey Ranta third, Catherine White seventh, Ciara Bonner 12th and Grace Carpenter 16th. Alyssa Dunlap was their fifth scorer in 29th.

"The girls ran well," Moskalick said. "We're still moving forward. They have their eyes set on something big. Any time you win semistate, you think of what you can do at the next level against the rest of the state. It'll be fun to see what the girls can do. They're ready for it. Last year was disappointing for us, so this is fuel for the fire to go in there and improve from where we were. If girls do what they're capable of doing, the sky is not the limit."

Valpo had hoped to contend for the title, but found itself in third at 141.

"The goal was to be in the 90s," Vikings coach John Arredondo said. "I figured we would have two or three in the top 20, 25. Hats off to Chesterton. They ran lights out. If we would've run great, they would've still beat us. If we were just going to advance, we were there. At the very bottom, the goal is to get out. Obviously, we want to go into state with a little more momentum. We'll try to shake it off, put it behind us and move forward. There will be no hangover."

With usual No. 2 runner Cheyanne Stock dropping out of the race around the mile mark, Valpo fell off from Kaylie Politza (fourth) to Lilly Maldia (25th). The trio of Noelle Gapinski (47th), Brooke Byvoets (52nd) and Grace Thomas (54th) were 10 seconds apart.

"We said all year we have a bunch of girls. Our strength was we had a strong one and a two to connect that gap, then (Stock) goes down," Arredondo said. "Chesterton had six between our one and two. Grace and Lilly have a ton of experience and that helped us. We always tell them coming out of the woods, if you don't make up any ground, you got to at least hold your spot. They did that. No one really moved up."

Chesterton's Bailey Ranta, left, and La Porte's Brenna Sobecki led their respective teams to state finals berths in Saturday's New Prairie Semistate.

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