NEW PRAIRIE -- Cross country is generational in Kouts' Heinold family.
Mel Heinold was the Porter County Conference's first champion in the sport.
His son, Perry, couldn't run due to exercise-induced asthma, but returned to Kouts after graduating from Valparaiso University, where he was on scholarship as a men's basketball manager/practice player. He became the school's cross country coach in 2002, succeeding Rich Briars, the program's coach for the prior three decades. Perry's son, Jay, ran and was all-conference three times. Finally, there's Anyssa, a Fillies senior, a two-time all-PCC finisher, including a runner-up last season.
"If it wasn't for my dad being coach, I wouldn't be running. It's as simple as that," Anyssa said Saturday after taking second in the Class A race at the New Prairie Invitational. "He brought me into the sport. He was with me when I wasn't very good. We talk a lot about it, bounce ideas, what if we do this, do this. The consistent support has been amazing."
Heinold and Kassidy Gregory, who took third in the race, followed by sophomore Jenna Twedt, are the leaders of a four-senior group that also included Emily Gurekovich and Desiree Hall.
"As proud as I am of Anyssa, I'm proud of all the rest of them," coach Heinold said after Kouts defended its title with a tidy 37 points. "The senior class is awesome. Their level of leadership gives confidence all the way through the team. They're all teammates and they have each other's back. There are a ton of great stories on this team."
One of them is Gregory, the PCC champion as a freshman who has placed third the last two years. Last season, she was slowed by an iron deficiency that resulted in 11 blood infusions over a year's time.
"When I was going through it, it affected me, it did something with my confidence," Gregory said. "It played a role on the team. I wasn't myself. Coming into this year, I feel a lot better with everything. Mentally, it's the best I've ever felt. We're all super close. We grew up together. We're all best friends. We've all run together. I feel this group is the closest we've ever been. That helps a lot with running. It's a family for sure. I want them to feel the success I had before."
Used to being the first Fillies finisher all the way back to sixth grade, Gregory had to adjust to having someone on the team finish ahead of her when Heinold, a 24-, 25-minute racer as a freshman, jumped in front of her last season.
Anyssa Heinold of Kouts was the Class A
New Prairie Invitational runner-up. Her dad
Perry is her coach.
"At first, it felt weird. I was always the top runner," Gregory said. "But I'm happy for my teammates as well. I feels good to watch (Heinold), to see her come in. It's fun going back and forth. You see people's faces, everyone has views of teams, I don't think people expect us. They're surprised, in a good way. Coaches come up to us and say, wow, your team's really good."
In addition to Twedt, a consistent third on the team, freshman Adylinne Oldham has slotted in as the No. 4 with Gurekovich fifth.
"Emily was struggling and wasn't sure she was going to stay with it," coach Heinold said. "She'd never been below 24 (minutes). One race, she knocked off 22 seconds and she's not seen it again."
Aurora Tru Henrichs and Jocelyn Hall round out the roster of eight.
"We're looking forward to the team finish rather than the individual," Heinold said. "They have a lot of confidence. They've taken everything on and they do what they can do. They're a fun, yet very focused group. Seeing how well they're competing, if they can stay healthy, the sky's the limit, and I think the team believes it."
Kouts' Kassidy Gregory took third in the New Prairie Invitational, helping the Fillies repeat as Class A champions.
Kouts and Morgan Township, which moved up to the run in the AAA race at New Prairie (and finished an impressive fifth), have dominated the PCC and both are thinking big for the postseason. Gregory doesn't want to get so caught up in the end goals that they don't fully appreciate the process of getting there.
"We don't want to let expectations ruin the finish," she said. "The bus rides, practices, meets. A whole season of stuff is so much more fun than just the end. It makes it all worth it."