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  • Writer's picturepeters1119

State champ James win big; C.P.'s Kiger does a good deed in season opener

CROWN POINT -- In a race dominated by Karina James, another story unfolded behind the Lowell state champion in Saturday's Crown Point Invitational at Lemon Lake.

The Bulldogs' Rhena Kiger played the role of cross country Good Samaritan, stopping in the midst of the run to help a Rensselaer runner who collapsed in front of her.

"I was like 30 feet away. I saw her laying there, people were running past her," Kiger said. "Once I got up to her, I stopped. I was talking to her, she wasn't really answering. She was pretty much passed out. She was very limp. I was trying to get her to sit up with me so I could walk with her a little bit. I sat there with her, holding her. I planned, if she got up, that I would run with her. A teammate called out for somebody else around to come. I waited until some boys came. They weren't in uniform, so I don't know if they were from her school. I planned, if she got up, that I would run with her. I asked them if it was OK if I left her with them; they said yeah and I went back to running."

While Kiger downplayed the moment, given that it was the first race of the season, she believes she would have done the same thing regardless of the race's significance.

"I'm really proud of her," Bulldogs coach Rob Lukowski said. "She came by, she was way behind where we thought she'd be, I went like, hey, what happened? She told me when she crossed the finish line. She was easily a minute-and-a-half behind the pack by the time she started running again. Amazingly, she had enough in the tank to finish 20, 25 seconds behind them."

Kiger only wishes she knew who the girl was so she could find her.

"I don't know who they are," she said. "I didn't look at her number. They all did their hair really similar."

Crown Point's 36-48 finish behind Lake Central certainly would've looked different without Kiger's good deed -- the top-five runner was the ninth Bulldog across the line -- but Lukowski hopes his kids would do that 100 times out of 100.

"From day one, I just started focusing on the team culture, making them feel like they were sisters," the first-year CP coach said. "Once I started feeling like that was solid, I started connecting that out to the community. I can't say enough about our five seniors. A head coaching change is hardest on the seniors. They have been fantastic. We got together at my house for pizza before we ever started practicing and banged out a game plan of how we were going to attack things. I told them this is your team. I'll write workouts and plan practices. You take the lead, tell me where you want to go and I'll make it happen. They've led from day one."

On the front end, James began her quest for another state title with a virtuoso performance that saw her cross the finish line in 18:38.3, nearly two minutes ahead of runner-up Amzie Maienbrook of Rensselaer.

"I think I faced that for the first time," James said. "I got out a little quick, I think I fell back into my tempo pace. I may have turned it into that at one point. I usually have girls with me at the mile. I felt no one near me from start to finish. I was really completely alone from like the first stride. I'm used to the roar of the crowd. It was kind of silent. It almost felt like a workout. I had to switch up fast and think of something. I kind of just rolled with the new new, and faced it as it came. I was really focusing on myself, which I never tend to do. I'm usually listening to the people around me, my coaches, the runners. I was really focusing on my own breathing."

James was so far in front, she joked about interacting with spectators as she passed them.

"They were like, oh, don't forget to breathe," she said. "I was like, do I give them a smile, give them a wave, let them know I'm cool? I bet it's funny seeing me like go so hard. I'll talk with my coaches, figure out some triggers to keep me going, what I can mentally do. I'm looking forward to adjusting. Any time I'm breathing heavy, I'm going to psych myself into thinking I'm exerting myself. It's easy to let yourself relax when there's no reason not to relax, but is there really a reason to completely stress myself? I tend to break down in form when I get caught up in the race. I really liked that I was able to dial in even on the movement of my arms, down to my stride."

All told, James called the race a good start to the season.

"It's a challenging course. I consider it one of the hardest in Indiana," she said. "The grass is kind of high. I'm used to running 18:30s. Last week, I ran with the boys at a local road race and ran 17:53. It was my first 5K. I'm by no means angry. I have no complaints, but I'm definitely digging for more. It's by no means my finish point. I want to run fast times. I want to be at that next level. I'm going to look for more. That's all that matters."

Lake Central's win was a result of the 4-5-8-9-10 finish by Sydney Churilla, Taylor Kosiek, Carly Davis, Addison Roth and Nikki Vollrath.

"They're so interchangeable, we never really know who's going to be that No. 1," Indians coach Morgan Kleinaman said. "It changed throughout the race, too. We were telling them, someone's just got to go out and do it. Our goal was to leave being champions. It's a hilly course, a tough course. We do hills all the time. You really need to use the hills, use the downhills, be aggressive. They worked very well with each other. Especially when the No. 1 was changing, you could see them, OK, come on, let's go. They're taking each other with them."

Isabelle Martisek (13th) and Mackenzie Smith (15th) were LC's sixth and seventh runners.

"I would say our top training group, there are eight or nine girls in it. They're always pushing each other," Kleinaman said. "They practice every day together. It's like a practice in a sense because you're with your team, you just have to be more competitive and run with each other."

Caitlyn Deriwinski led C.P. in third at 20:57.34.

"I felt good," she said. "The last minute, I just kept going, I tried to pick people off. I was just looking at whoever was in front of me and kept working toward them. We're all really close together. "We're all really working hard."

Destiny Lopez (sixth), Elli Pycraft (11th), Reilly Lustina (12th) and Nadia Brumbaugh (16th), all sophomores, completed the Bulldogs' top five.

"We had two freshmen in the top 10, 12, which I wouldn't have guessed yesterday," Lukowski said. "We're looking good. We're just getting started. If we do well here, we can do well anywhere."

"I feel like a lot more girls are interested in doing the best we can," Kiger added. "I'm excited to see what we can do. (Lukowski) pushes us. I think the team's going to be really strong."

Lowell (93) was third, raising James' hope for team success this season.

"Three through seven, I'm excited," she said. "I think we have the depth to make our way to state. That's what I want, to be there with my team."

Lowell's Karina James forges a big early lead on the field in Saturday's Crown Point Invitational on her way to a near two-minute margin of victory at Lemon Lake.

Tyler Kosiek of Lake Central, Riley Jorge of Munster and Amzie Maienbrook of Rensselaer run in Saturday's Crown Point Invitational at Lemon Lake. Maienbrook finished second, Kosiek fifth and Jorge 37th.

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