TERRE HAUTE – Say this for Zach Panning. He leaves everything he’s got on the race course.
And then some.
A heavy favorite to win the boys championship at this year’s IHSAA state cross country finals, the Concordia senior was 200 meters from claiming the title when he collapsed and fell Saturday at the Wabash Valley Sports Center in Terre Haute.
Running out of gas with the finish line in sight, Panning rose, stumbled forward, then fell again. Three times.
Meanwhile, Terre Haute South’s Jackson Bertoli surged past and across the finish line, winning the 5,000-meter race in 15:32.4.
Greenwood’s David Dalton went by as well, taking second. So did Panning’s friend and future teammate at Temple University, Warsaw’s Ellis Coon.
“I wanted to stop and help him, but I knew I couldn’t,” said Coon, who finished third. “I just yelled at him as much as I could, trying to get him up. I felt terrible.”
By the time he reached the finish chute, Panning had slipped back to 22nd place, clocking 15:59.2.
He was unavailable immediately after the meet, but Saturday evening he was sending out tweets to let everybody know he’s all right.
“Tough way to end it, but praise The Lord for a great season and the abilities he has blessed me with,” Panning tweeted. “And thank you for the unbelievable amount of support I’ve received though this. I can’t describe how much it means to me.”
Later, he posted some more comments on his Facebook page.
“Just hit a wall really, I’m not sure what exactly happened,” Panning wrote. “I couldn’t control my legs.
“I am doing a lot better,” he added.
Concordia athletic director Dean Doeffler, who was at the state meet, talked to Panning after the race.
“He’s fine. It’s disappointing. I am not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Doeffler said.
Fourth-place finisher Anthony Didion of LaPorte, another friend of Panning’s, rushed to his side as he was being led away. “I told him he deserved to win, he went out and did all the work,” Didion said. “It was his race to win.”
And until the very end, it looked as if he would. Panning and Bertoli broke the race open early. Then, with a little more than 1,000 meters to go, Panning surged to a 50-meter advantage.
While the crowd’s attention was riveted on the finish, Carroll’s boys were busy running their best race of the season.
Surprising even themselves a little bit, the Chargers worked their way into third place with 192 points. Carmel scored 64 to repeat as state champs, while Columbus North was second.
Cameron Clements, a sophomore, raced home 14th in 15:52.1 to lead the Carroll pack. Jacob Schmeling (16:01.6) was 24th.
“The strategy today was just to get out strong, run hard and run for each other,” first-year coach Phil Yoder said. “There were times during the year when I wasn’t sure we could do this, but our guys turned it on at the right time.”
Carroll’s top five finished within a 56-second span. Hard training in September turned into a strong November performance.
“After conference, we kind of struggled a little bit, and we kind of questioned whether this was working,” Clements said. “But we ran great at sectional and just kept going. All week, we talked about how great our legs were feeling.”
Warsaw finished 12th in the final team standings, while Dwenger placed 15th. South Adams was 17th and Homestead 20th.
DeKalb’s Mark Beckmann earned a spot on the awards stand with his ninth-place effort. West Noble’s Brandon Arnold was 20th.
Carmel’s girls claimed their fourth consecutive state championship, and Carmel senior Kelcy Welch won the girls individual title in 17:53.9. She also won the mental attitude award.
Carroll finished seventh in the girls standings, nine points behind Penn. A week earlier, the Chargers just nipped Penn at the New Haven semistate.
“I thought our girls ran well; other teams ran better,” Yoder said.
Madison Fruchey finished 36th to lead the Chargers, the only area squad to finish in the top 10. She clocked 18:59.4. Megan Doty was 49th.
Homestead’s girls finished 17th. Warsaw was 21st and Huntington North 23rd.
Fremont’s Abi Hostetler finished seventh in 18:18.8 as the top area individual finisher. Bellmont’s sophomore phenom, Bailey Beery, placed 16th.
“The hills were a lot harder than I thought they would be,” Beery said. “But I’ve got a medal, I’m pretty satisfied.”