The leaves are turning, the air is cooler and the days shorter. Samantha Roush doesn't need a calendar to know what time of year it is. Her instincts tell her.
“It's the postseason,” says the senior cross-country runner from Columbia City. “This is what we've been training for all season long.”
Roush is among the favorites at Saturday's West Noble Regional. The boys race is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. with the girls race to follow. The top five teams in each race along with the first 10 finishers not on advancing teams, will qualify for the New Haven Semistate on Oct. 26 at The Plex in Fort Wayne.
To this point in the season, Roush has been flying low. Her places at meets haven't exactly been what you'd expect from a three-time all-state runner. But this has been by design.
“You might think it's discouraging,” Roush said of her performances. “But there have been a lot of changes in training, different workouts. Everything has been (geared) for the state meet.”
It's not a strategy for the faint of heart.
“Sammy trained through our meets,” said Columbia City coach Bob Fahl. “It takes a special runner to do that. You have to have confidence that you will be at your best when the money races, at the end of the season, get here.”
Tuesday's Northrop Sectional marked the beginning of the “money races” and Fahl said there was a different Samantha Roush on the course.
“Sammy was definitely more focused, more assertive in the race,” Fahl said of Roush, who placed fifth. “She got after it. She's been hanging back and then moving up, but not (at sectionals).”
Both Fahl and Roush expect that strategy to continue, if not intensify as the competition gets better each race.
“At this point in the season, I need to pick it up,” Roush said. “There are a lot of great athletes competing and I need to find the perfect pace.”
With state meet finishes of 12th (ninth grade), seventh (10th grade) and 24th (11th grade), Roush is setting her sights on another top 25 (all-state) finish.
“I wouldn't expect anything less,” Roush said.
In the team race, No. 6-ranked Carroll is looking to extend that state's longest current regional title streak to 13. The Chargers won the Northrop Sectional title by 37 points over Homestead (43-80). Fremont, behind senior and individual champion Abby Hostetler, won the West Noble Sectional.
Also vying for individual honors will be Leo's Lindsey Marriott and Concordia's Marina Konow. Marriott won the Northrop Sectional title.
At the Marion Regional, Bellmont's Bailey Beery is a heavy favorite to win the individual title and hopes to carry her team past Huntington North for the team title.
Panning vs. Beckmann to highlight boys regional
The boys meet will pit the area's top two runners: Concordia's Zach Panning and DeKalb's Mark Beckmann. Both easily won their respective sectional races:
Panning by 43 seconds over Homestead's Brayden Law and Beckmann by 19 seconds over West Noble's Brandon Arnold. Panning is the Summit Athletic Conference champ while Beckmann won the Northeast Hoosier Conference meet.
The team race should also be close between No. 11-ranked Carroll, No. 21 Homestead, No. 24 Bishop Dwenger and West Noble. Carroll narrowly beat Dwenger for the Northrop Sectional title while West Noble won its sectional.
At the Marion Regional, South Adams (Bellmont Sectional champ) will be battling Huntington North (Marion Sectional champ) for the team title.
IHSAA REGIONAL MEETS
When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: West Noble (teams from Northrop and West Noble Sectionals) and Marion (teams from Bellmont and Marion sectionals).
Advancement: The top five teams in the boys and girls meets along with the top 10 finishers not on an advancing team will qualify for the New Haven Semistate.