The IHSAA cross-country sectionals offer a unique challenge to teams and individuals each year. Because the regional meet is only four days later, the top runners are coached to run well, but not too fast, because a bigger meet looms Saturday.
There was no such confusion for Concordia's Marina Konow on Tuesday at the Northrop Sectional. Konow raced away from Columbia City's Samantha Roush with 300 meters remaining of the 5,000-meter race. Konow won in 18 minutes, 52 seconds; Roush, last year's winner, crossed the line in 18:55.
No. 3 state-ranked Carroll won its 13th straight sectional title in easy fashion, placing all seven runners in the top 11 finishers to total just 30 points. Concordia (74), Homestead (102), Columbia City (125) and Snider also advanced to Saturday's West Noble Regional. The top 15 individuals also advance.
Konow knew she was in for a race when Roush pulled even to her midway through the race.
“I know my body pretty well and I knew we were running a good pace,” Konow said. “So, I decided to run with her.”
Then Konow's competitive streak took over as the runners entered the woods with 600 meters remaining.
“Mentally, I was like, I want this!” Konow said. “Then I saw my coach (Ellen Osborn) in the woods and she told me to go.”
Konow's other coach, Osborn's husband, Greg, was ecstatic with the junior's performance.
“She has great 800 speed, so if anyone is close, she's gonna take them,” Greg Osborn said. “But Roush has a good speed, too. Marina came in wanting to win and she was prepared to do what it took.”
Also prepared were the Chargers who dominated despite resting their top runner (Olivia Hippensteel) and two other varsity runners. Leading the way was senior Madison Stenger, who usually runs fourth or fifth for the team. Also scoring for Carroll were Amy Poynter (fifth), Madison Fruchey (sixth), Melanie Ruich (seventh) and Caitlyn Chastain (ninth).
“It appears to be a surprise,” said Carroll coach Zach Raber of Stenger's finish. “But that's how she practices. She always up there with Olivia. But she's a track kid and doesn't see herself as a cross-country kid.”
Although the general command from Raber was to run relaxed and steady, Stenger said she took upon herself to be more aggressive.
“With Olivia not out there, I wanted to kill it,” Stenger said. “I went out with the pack and then I just went for it.”
Individuals advancing to Saturday's West Noble Regional were Leo's Jennifer Emery (eighth) and Lauren Hamilton (14th).