Bishop Dwenger's Erin Strzelecki thought her coach's goal for her at Saturday's Huntington North Invitational was a bit ambitious.
She was supposed to go out at 17:45 pace, which would be faster than she had ever run a 5K.
“Then when I just got out into the race, I just felt good,” Strzelecki said. “I went out a little faster than that and surpassed the goal he wanted me to hit. So I'm pretty happy right now.”
She took a huge lead early in the race and ran nearly the entire distance of Huntington University's home course alone, smashing her personal best to win in 17 minutes, 35.5 seconds.
Strzelecki, the runner-up at last season's state meet, finished nearly a minute ahead of Saturday's second-place finisher, Carroll's Zoe Duffus (18:32.3) and Cardinal Ritter's Mary Anna Wehrle (18:35.2).
Strzelecki's performance was made all the more impressive by the fact that she didn't have any competitors to race against, as she typically did last year with Carroll's Abby Green and Meagan Hathaway.
“It was a little tougher this time around because, last year, I had at least three girls around me to pace me,” Strzelecki said. “But I've grown a lot in how I pace myself – for the most part. It is a little hard when you're by yourself like that.”
It was a different story in the boys' varsity race, where Concordia's Reece Gibson hung with a pack of five runners before finally pulling into the lead in the final 600 meters or so. He won in 15:38.6, and the next three finishers – in order, Travis Hickner of Noblesville, Paul Stamm of Cardinal Ritter and Izaiah Steury of Angola – all came across the line within the next 10 seconds.
“My goal was to go out at 4:50 (pace) and get some shock value for the races coming up, but I think we went through at 4:59,” Gibson said of their first mile. “I lost the lead at around 2 miles, and I stayed back until we turned left and I took the lead, finished from there.”
Gibson, who also won the meet as a junior in 2018, said the course reminded him of the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, where the state meet is held.
“There's a lot of hills, and there's actually a creek crossing that we had to go through and stuff like that, so it's pretty difficult,” Gibson said.
Steury's fourth-place finish was another strong showing for the sophomore, who qualified for the state meet as an individual.
“I think I did all right, compared to last year. My time was much better than I thought, and it was a great day to run,” said Steury, who improved on last year's performance by about 1:20. “I've improved a lot, and summer workouts have helped so much with that. I've got a head start.”
Steury said he wanted to latch on to second place, and he did stick with the top runners throughout the race.
“The placing maybe wasn't the place I wanted to be, but the time was pretty good and I'm pretty happy with it,” Steury said.
The defending state champion Carroll girls won the team competition easily, as Duffus, Monroe Rayna Fruchey, Mallory Clements and Ashlyn Minton all finished in the top eight. Bishop Dwenger was second, Homestead was third and Concordia was fourth.
Led by Gibson, the Cadets won the boys race, as Drake Kropf, Luke Bentz and Daniel Adair took ninth through 11th place. Homestead was second, Noblesville third and West Noble fourth.
Runners on several teams wore paint or found other ways to memorialize former West Noble cross country coach Chuck Schlemmer, who died last week after being hit by a van while riding his bike. The meet was also the first time West Noble's top boys runner, Colten Cripe, had raced since he was seriously injured in a car crash last November. He took 14th place in 16:25.8.