LIGONIER – The only suspense in the girls race at the West Noble cross country regional championship Saturday was exactly how fast Erin Strzelecki could go.
Two minutes into the race, the Bishop Dwenger senior had already broken away from the pack and opened a lead of at least 20 yards. By the time she reached the final straightaway, there were no other runners in sight. She crossed the finish line in 17 minutes, 37.1 seconds, which she estimated was 13 seconds off her personal best.
"I definitely felt a lot more fresh than I did two weeks ago," said Strzelecki, who did not run in the sectional meet at Northrop in order to rest up for the remaining postseason races. "The strategy was to take it out a little bit harder, so about 5:25 was the first mile. That was right on pace for what we were aiming for. Just from there, I tried to take it out pretty hard, considering how difficult the course is. I think I executed pretty well."
Strzelecki's Saints finished second as a team and will advance to the New Haven semi-state meet held at The Plex next week. The Carroll girls stretched their state record streak of consecutive regional titles to 19 by placing all five of their scorers (Monroe Rayna Fruchey, Ashlyn Minton, Mallory Clements, Brooke Hansen and Madalyn Ruch) in the top 10. Chargers junior Zoe Duffus, who won the Northrop sectional last week, sat out to rest before semi-state.
Concordia senior Ellie Cates finished second for the second straight week, this time running a 18:25.6, to lead the Cadets to a fourth-place finish. The Homestead girls took third place, led by sophomore Amelia Faber, and DeKalb took fifth place to round out the teams advancing to semi-state.
On the boys side, senior Reece Gibson led Concordia to its first cross country regional title. Gibson and Angola sophomore Izaiah Steury sped ahead of the rest of the field, and the elder runner finally broke away in the final mile to win in 15:45.9.
"The goal was to push it the first two miles, then kind of slow down until 1 (kilometer) left, and then take the last K. I think it worked out pretty good," Gibson said. "I anticipated there being a bigger group, but I guess it's just me and Izaiah. He's a great runner, and it really means a lot to come out here and race with him."
Steury didn't fall too far behind after Gibson pulled away, and the sophomore finished second in 15:53.4. Homestead senior Jarred Neff was third, followed by Concordia seniors Drake Kropf and Wilson Whicker.
"This race is not as good as wanted, considering time, but the place was exactly what I planned for," said Steury, who was running as an individual since his team did not advance out of sectionals. "My race strategy was trying to go out fast so I had more distance on them in the end – but it seems Reece Gibson is pretty good."
The Cadets won the team title with 36 points, followed by Homestead with 74. West Noble was right behind in third with 75. Westview finished fourth, and Columbia City was the last team to advance with a fifth-place finish.
"It felt great last week to get a sectional title," Gibson said. "To come out here today and do as well as we did – I saw (Knopf and Whicker), it was kind of exciting to look back and see that. It gave me a little push."
Austin Liepe of East Noble finished eighth overall and was the top individual to advance without his team.