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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Thursday, October 21, 2021

Tyler Swartz of Warsaw could prove to be a pivotal racer as the Tigers take on the New Prairie Cross Country Semi-state this weekend. InkFreeNews file photo by Mike Deak

By Mike Deak

NEW CARLISLE – The opportunity for Warsaw to make repeat appearances at the IHSAA Cross Country State Finals are in front of each of the boys and girls teams. The Tigers are among the contenders at the New Prairie Cross Country Semi-state this Saturday morning, a 11:30 a.m. EST start time.

The girls race will feature the defending state champion in Karina James of Lowell, who raced to an 18:31 to win the Crown Point regional title, and should be among the favorites again at New Prairie. Per times posted from other regionals, New Prairie’s Lillian Zelasko could push the champ on her home course, Zelasko timing 18:31 to win the Chesterton regional. Valpo’s Kaylie Politza, who was 11th at last year’s state finals, was second to Zelasko at 18:45.

While mid-18s could be on display, Warsaw is hoping to just put its team together closely at the finish and make it academic to return to the state finals. Joey Rastrelli lost her first race in a month at the regional, running 20 seconds behind Northwestern’s Hannah Moore, but Rastrelli still sets the pace for the Tigers that has seen Wini Barnett close the gap at the top. Warsaw, which comes in ranked No. 17, has seen any of Mikayla Mimnaugh, Ava Knight, Regan Brouwer, Amanda Lusinde and Elizabeth Vander Bie all come through with top 10 runs this season.

The girls team field itself also includes No. 8 Chesterton, No. 10 Valpo, No 24 LaPorte and No. 25 Lake Central. What may complicate things for Warsaw if it doesn’t have a showcase team day are the likes of individuals from the Lafayette Harrison regional, which had seven runners under 20 minutes, and the Chesterton regional, which had nine under 20 minutes, potentially putting the squeeze on Warsaw individual runners to advance if the Tigers can’t grab one of the top six team positions. Rastrelli had the top Warsaw time in the regional at 20:01.

The girls race will also have a pair of local individuals trying to continue their seasons to first state appearances. Triton sophomore Jocelynn Faulkner and Tippecanoe Valley sophomore Chesnee Miller will both race, the two running 21:13 and 21:15 to take the final two individual spots at the Culver Academy regional a week ago.

In recent years, the New Prairie semi-state has been overloaded with elite teams with lofty rankings on the boys side. That isn’t the case in terms of 2021 rankings, but it doesn’t mean the competition won’t be fierce. Warsaw comes in at No. 23, just behind No. 22 LaPorte and No. 19 Valpo. But old warhorses like Chesterton, West Lafayette, Crown Point and Munster are all back, and surely ready to prove their worth.

Warsaw’s boys, after making its first appearance at state in seven years in 2020, is hoping to make it back to improve on a 16th place finish at Terre Haute.

The Tigers continued its local dominance with stout team title runs at the sectional and regional levels, running double digit streaks in both title reigns. One title Warsaw hasn’t won is a semi-state crown, and if it wants a new trophy for the case, the story remains the same from the first two legs of the state series. Behind the trio of Garrett Hall, Harrison Phipps and Luke Nier, who have raced within the top 10 at both tournament stops, Warsaw is looking for the combo of Tyler Swartz, Ryun Hoffert and Andrew Potter to move up the list.

Look for Sam Tullis of Culver Academy, Ryan York of Hanover Central, Cole Raymond of LaPorte, Preston Padgett of Rossville and Elijah Stenberg of West Lafayette to all be in the mix for the individual title at New Prairie.

Races are set to begin Saturday at 11:30 a.m. EST, or 10:30 local time. The top six teams and top 10 individuals not on an advancing team will qualify for the IHSAA State Finals on Oct. 30 in Terre Haute.

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