It must get boring out there on the cross-country course for Zach Panning. The Concordia junior typically runs by himself, well out in front of the rest of field. Just because Tuesday's Northrop Sectional was the start of the postseason didn't mean anything should change.
Panning won the meet in a course record 15 minutes, 40 seconds, easily outpacing runner-up Alex Hess (16:08) and Jon Harper (16:09), both of Carroll.
Carroll, ranked No. 2 in the state, easily won the team title with 33 points. The Chargers placed all five scorers in the top 12 places despite resting two of their top runners. Also scoring for Carroll were Eric Claxton (seventh), Bret Unger (ninth) and Jacob Schmeling (12th).
The top five teams and top 15 individuals advance to Saturday's West Noble Regional. After Carroll were Homestead (62), Concordia (88), Bishop Dwenger (91) and Snider (121).
Panning, who was runner-up to Harper last year, minced no words about the key to his race.
“I really think it's God. He gives me the strength to do everything,” Panning said. “I have great coaches and I just go out there and run hard.”
Panning said he didn't really pay attention to his mile split (4:52) or even his two-mile split (an impressive 9:53).
“It didn't feel like I was going that fast,” Panning said, admitting he doesn't focus on his form, breathing or pace. “I just keep running hard. I guess I kind of zone out.”
Zoned out would not be a good description of the Carroll boys. The Chargers came in with strict instructions by coach Zach Raber to run as a pack and then wait for a command.
“We told our top three guys to just relax, run smart and cruise to 16:20,” Raber said. “Alex and Jon felt good and they can run 16:00s without pressing. Eric didn't feel as good today.”
Harper said the strategy was “kind of relaxing.”
“We didn't have all the nerves connected with racing all-out,” Harper said. “We weren't really thinking about our pace or our place, just trying to stay packed as a group.”
The only individuals to advance were Columbia City's Evan Harney (11th) and North Side's Emmanuel Ratliff (15th).