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The first of the last: New Prairie's Zelasko wins sectional, sets record to start senior postseason

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

NEW CARLISLE -- A few days after setting her plans for college running, Lilly Zelasko started her final high school post-season by showing he's got a few more chapters to pen with New Prairie.

"Honestly, I just looked at it with excitement," the Cougars senior said after racing to the sectional title Saturday. "Last weekend, I had a big PR, so just go out and see what I can do on my home course. This is my course, this has been my course. I just want to go out there and prove myself every week, run what I can run, keep pushing myself every week and see how far it takes me."

Zelasko checked in at 17:55.9, her best time on the home turf and just shy of a minute in front of Valpo's Cheyanne Stock.

"The weather's perfect," she said. "...My plan was, take it from the start, run your race and keep pushing forward, get stronger as the race gets longer.

Last week has been a confidence booster, like you can do it. I just thought to run under 18 was so crazy, to do it two weekends in a row, it's like, whoa. Earlier on in the season, I was running 18:10 at Harrison. I feel like things are coming together. I feel like there's more to go."

After Saturday's regional at Sunset Hill Farm, Zelasko will return for her last home race, leading into her state finale.

"I'm excited for Sunset," she said. "I do like it over there. To me, it's pretty flat compared to the last two courses I've run. There's lots of windy turns. The turns are a great way to get some speed, and you can lead yourself to some pretty quick times. Every race is hard, but with more competition like when I get with Warsaw (at semistate), it's going to feel a lot more challenging, especially mentally, throughout the race. The last two races have pretty much run solo."

Earlier in the week, Zelasko committed to run for Western Michigan.

"I'm excited," she said. "They're having a huge buildup with a new coach and I really want to be a part of something that's so exciting. I like the proximity of it. It's a smaller team, it's more close knit. I wasn't looking at a conference or anything, I was just looking at schools that had reached out to me or had piqued my interest. Last year, they popped up on my radar, they had this new coach and we started chatting."

After an unofficial visit to the Kalamazoo campus in the summer, Zelasko made her official a weeks ago before deciding on Western over Grand Valley, coached by New Prairie grad Jerry Baltes.

"It was really hard," she said. "It took quite a long time. There were aspects of both that I liked. It's hard to tell a coach you're going somewhere else, but it's part of the process."

Zelasko plans to study Biology and become a Physician's Assistant.

New Prairie's Lilly Zelasko won Saturday's

sectional and broke the meet record.

"I'm really excited for her," NP coach Julie Beakas said. "She had a lot of offers to go to the Division I level. It was a tough choice for her. It's the best of the best. You can see her dedication in races. Her hard work's paid off. In this sport, there's a direct correlation. She had some end-season goals, hoping to go sub-18s, and now to do it twice, especially on our home course, it's not an easy feat. We're not necessarily shocked that she's done it, it's by how much. Most of the race, she was on her own, so we're excited to see what happens when she's pushed by other elite girls."

Valparaiso had the luxury of swapping out its four through seven runners and still won decisively, 33-66, over runner-up Portage.

"Our first three ran, then we mixed everybody else up," Vikings coach John Arredondo said. "We try to give everyone (in the top 12) a chance to run in the post-season. It gives us more data on who might run in the big show. I was happy with the back end girls. Meredith (Isley, 11th), Ena (Gilliana, 13th) and Becca (Cavanaugh, 14th) were all sub-20:30 and did a good job of pushing girls on other teams."

The Vikings' lead four were in the top eight with Cheyanne Stock second (18:49.3), Elizabeth Erhardt fifth, Liv Hatch seventh and Grace Thomas eighth.

"We ran so well last week, I was wondering how it would go," Arredondo said. "It was a workmanlike effort. Cheyanne ran another good race. Elizabeth stepped up and ran a great race. Grace wasn't feeling it, but she was still up there. We put ourselves in position, held it and were able to bring home the trophy. We don't take it for granted. You never know when it might stop."

Valparaiso's Cheyanne Stock was runner-up in the New Prairie Sectional on Saturday.

Lila Gillisse of La Porte finished third in Saturday's New Prairie Sectional in just her second race of the season. (Photo by Mike Kellems)

In the boys race, Valparaiso topped Chesterton, 40-49, with La Porte (58) third and Portage (74) fourth.

"We knew it would take a total team effort," Vikings coach Aaron Crague said. "Chesterton's first four were in the top eight, nine, so we knew we would have to stay close with those guys."

Jimmy Dillabaugh (15:51.6) and Mason Nobles (15:48.8) went one-two for Valpo.

"We knew coming in after DACs, Chesterton was a team that was going to give us a run," Dillabaugh said. "We knew we had a pretty good chance if we could each beat the guys at our position, and we executed very well. We had quite a few guys under 17 (minutes) or really close. We feel like we're putting all the pieces together. We're definitely starting to figure out our depth."

With Sammy Sienkowski and Nathaniel Malchow sitting out, Valpo picked up top 15 performances from Nathan Nova (11th), Riley Clark (12th) and Brady Cavanaugh (14th), with Cavanaugh besting Chesterton's No. 5 by eight places.

"Obviously, Jimmy's continuing to run at a high level," Crague said. "It was huge getting Mason back, bouncing back to doing what he's capable of doing after being sick last week. We had some really nice, veteran-type races from some upperclassmen. As a coach, you always hope they can learn from the experiences, the practices, and they all executed well."

The race up front was drama-free for Dillabaugh as he captured his first sectional title.

"I usually let guys do their own thing until around the 2K, then I notice they start to crack and I start making my move," he said. "I saw it (right after the woods), and I decided it was time to go. It's a flat course from there. It's not easy. I was definitely hurting, but it was a smaller race and good weather. That played into my hands. It wasn't super low key. We're still training at our maximum, but it's still the post-season. We worked our hardest to run our best."

The meet also serves as a dry for semistate, when Valpo returns to New Prairie, where the field will be a lot bigger and faster.

"Any time you can run New Prairie, you want to take advantage of it," Crague said. "You know where you hope to be time-wise, position-wise, who you're going to be around, and can apply to two weeks from now."

Valparaiso's Jimmy Dillabaugh won Saturday's New Prairie Sectional, pacing the Vikings to the team title.

La Porte's Jay Pillai and Shane Conroy of Portage sprint to the finish line in Saturday's New Prairie Sectional. Conroy edged Pillai for third. (Photo by Mike Kellems)

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