ST. JOHN -- Saturday's Rudy Skorupa Invitational at Lake Central was originally scheduled to be contested with no fans due to the course's tight quarters.
Then, early in the week, Indians boys coach Jeff Rhody got a note from the L.C. Athletics Department that they wanted to allow spectators, meaning he had to reconfigure the layout.
By Thursday night, it was all systems go.
"We basically just flipped the course," Rhody said. "It worked out well. Some cross country people don't ever want any part of a race to be run on a track, but a lot of people liked it."
Runners entered the football stadium for the finish, running the last 150 or so meters on the track to the cheers of the fans who were allowed to sit in the bleachers. Otherwise, the changes on the course entailed runners going up the hill rather than down it, while going down the incline rather than up.
"It was a harder course with you going up the hill three times," said Highland's Lucas Guerra said, who rated the course's difficulty between Kesling Park and Lemon Lake, the sites of his prior two races. "I played it a little conservative at the start to save some energy for the hills. I think I did really well. It's always nice seeing all the families. That's the best part about cross country. It's not like football, basketball, where you have other parents booing you. Cross country, we're all on the same team in the end, everybody's out there accomplishing their goals."
As Guerra raced down the straightaway, a voice from the stands shouted out times, 15:18, 15:19, 15:20.
"It was my uncle," he said. "He has a loud voice. I knew it was him."
Last year's state runner-up hit the line in 15:51, 31 seconds in front of runner-up Quinton Bock of Crown Point.
Highland's Lucas Guerra won Saturday's Rudy Skorupa
Invitational at Lake Central in a time of 15 minutes, 51
seconds. Guerra was the runner-up the last two years.
"High school season might be all we have, I'm just making sure each race I'm not leaving too much out there, that I'm still running hard races," said Guerra, the runner-up to C.P.'s Geno Christofanelli the last two years. "It was a lot slower than the last two years, but I really don't care about times, it's about the effort you're putting in. Effort means more than anything. If we were running on golf courses like they do in some states, we would all be running sub 15s. I stopped looking at the watch pretty much the whole race."
While Guerra appreciates the support, he is even more anxious for next Saturday's State Preview Meet in Terre Haute, though it will be held without spectators.
"I've been looking forward to it. I'm happy to go back down to the state course," he said. "There will be other guys there to help push me along. I don't really care too much (about the crowd). I'm in the zone when I'm running. I'd much rather have guys who are fast. If I'm going to have one or the other, I'll take the competition. We changed how we are approaching the season. We're not really focusing on the end of the season, but more or less on what's happening tomorrow. We're going to start to get a lot more intense training done a lot sooner as opposed to expanding the season over a course of six months. We've got to take things day by day because it could change. It's 2020, so nothing's for sure."
Guerra and Crown Point's boys have been the sure things in the Region in the season's first three weeks. The Bulldogs won their third title in as many meets, topping the hosts 39-63.
"Our strategy was pretty simple," CP coach Erik Forehand said. "We wanted to use the meet as more of a learning experience, take what we learned the first two meets of the season and apply them to today. They do really a good job figuring out where they're at in the middle of a race and how they need to move up. Early in the season, you can try something if you want to, to see how it goes."
Lake Central set a hot early pace, but the 'Dogs didn't chase too aggressively.
"Lake Central went out incredibly fast," Forehand said. "It looked like they had a pack of six, seven. They may have been trying something to go out as quick as they could and hold on. Thankfully, our guys were able to move up in the middle of the race. We were just able to stay a bit closer to even our splits. Our four, five, six were moving up throughout the race. That was key because if we scored at the mile mark, we were getting smashed. We progressively pulled into the lead. It was pretty smart on our guys' behalf, to stay close, stay in the race, and not be too concerned Lake Central went out fast and we need to get up there immediately. We had some gas left in the tank."
Bock was followed by Cole Simmons (16:37) with Anthony Saberniak tenth (17:12). C.P. put its top seven in the top 20.
"The top three are pretty locked in," Forehand said. "They're just switching positions, learning, correcting things. Four, five, six and seven have all been switching spots. We're looking to close that gap. In a larger meet, we're going to need them moving up. (Freshman) Weston Hulen had a great race. Today was a lot more forgiving because it was cooler. A lot of kids took advantage of the temperatures. There were a lot of fast times. This week was brutally hot. I figured they'd feel really good."
Bock led Crown Point for the second week in a row, though he's enthused by the team's competitive balance.
"We haven't really had anything like that, at least the last three years I've been running," he said. "We've never been able to pack up, we've all been spread out. This year, I have Anthony and Cole to step up and run with me. The top four have really stepped up a lot. It's nice to know I have two guys behind me. That pushes me and pushes them, too. I've never had that before. I've always been in no man's land. We're really setting ourselves up for success."
So much for a transition in changing coaches.
"When we had (coach Keith) Iddings, we always had things set out week by week. We knew exactly what we were going to do," Bock said. "This year, it's a bit different. Most guys like it. We come to practice, we don't know what we're doing, so we don't stress about it. It's a new workout every week, which is nice. It was scary for some of the guys on the team, but (the seniors) had (Forehand) in middle school, so we knew he'd be a good coach from the beginning. He started my freshman year. It's been really helpful this year. The seniors have been with the head coach for seven years now."