NEW CARLISLE — A barking knee side tracked Tim O’Laughlin’s promising cross country season before it started back in August.

“I had a real good summer of training, then two weeks before the first meet, it started hitting me,” the New Prairie sophomore said.

An MRI revealed nothing major, requiring only physical therapy, but O’Laughlin was still out of action for about a month, limited to elliptical and bike workouts.

In Saturday’s New Prairie Sectional, he showed he was back into form, rolling over his home course in 16 minutes, 19.6 seconds for a 10-second victory over Chesterton’s Will Shook.

“It’s pretty special,” O’Laughlin said. “After the race, I talked to Cole (Raymond of La Porte) and he said, you’re back, finally. When I came back, I wasn’t the same, conditioning-wise. Now it feels like feels like I’m getting back to where I was, where I left off in track.”

After Raymond set a hot pace, O’Laughlin took control in the final mile, pulling away as he exited the woods.

“I definitely wanted to be pretty conservative early,” O’Laughlin said. “After I got up Agony (Hill), I’m like, I don’t feel that bad, I’m going to go for it. I knew Cole was dying a little bit there. I would be able to get him. A lot of people were complaining (about the cold), but I was excited. It was an awesome day for a cross country meet.”

Cougars coach John Arndt was pumped to see O’Laughlin first as the field began to re-emerge on the main grounds.

“I saw him coming out of the woods, I was, ooh, this is looking pretty nice,” Arndt said. “That’s a special energy to have late in the race, to have a lead, you’re rolling, you’re confident, people are cheering, I think he just fed off that. It wasn’t over at that point. The wind was howling, he’s floating alone in the lead, you can start to question yourself. It was just a general race strategy we rolled with, he felt right and he did it. I saw that move happen, the commitment to do it. Cole had a significant lead early, but I liked where Tim was, tracking in that next tier. It can be tricky to hold something like that in the wind.”

Arndt credits the prompt approach to the injury in aiding O’Laughlin’s comeback.

“They caught it at the right time,” he said. “His parents jumped right on getting him to see someone to make sure it was OK. It’s amazing how it’s responded. So far, so good. His expectations, hopes, goals, desires line up with mine. It’s a good time of year to start getting momentum if you didn’t have it early. The fitness is there. You saw it in track.”

After what he called ‘a horrific race’ in the Duneland Conference meet, Raymond was determined to get after it in the sectional, no matter how it wound up. He finished fifth in 16:41.7.

“I was just trying to build my confidence back up,” he said. “I was just going to go try to make a move as early as possible. If it wasn’t windy, my first mile would have been flying, 4:40, 4:45. That first K, it was in my face the entire time. I was getting smoked. I tried to run as close to the tree line as possible. I had a huge lead, like 10 seconds. I was shocked. I thought someone would go with me. I probably won’t run like that from here on out. I’m just going to run in that front group and just hang on. That’s how I’m going to feel at semistate. I’m just trying to get to know that feeling, how much I can push.”

La Porte and New Prairie tied for third with 102 points, well back of Valpo (39) and Chesterton (48). The Slicers held the sixth-man tie-breaker despite an off day for usual front runner Connor Havens (34th, 17:58.7). Sam Bell picked up the slack, placing eighth.

“Connor came in Thursday sicker than a dog,” LP coach Corbin Slater said. “He looked bad the last couple days. He was dragging. I told him, hey, we’re not expecting much from you. I just told him you need to race so we can get on to next level. If we didn’t have to race him, we wouldn’t have. I felt like we needed to. We would’ve been fine, I just wanted to make sure. Cole had a major blowup at conference, so he needed to do something gutsy to get that confidence back. He can feel food about that. He looked better this week in training than he has all season.”

For New Prairie, Josh Baltes was 15th and Quinn Beall 20th.

“This is fall cross country,” Arndt said. “It is here. I’d like to think we’ve got more to show. We’ll find out.”

Marquette’s Jake Tarnow (22nd), Michigan City’s Damian Albisu (23rd) and South Central’s Kolten Becker (33rd) qualified individually.

New Prairie Sectional

Regional Qualifiers

Team: La Porte, New Prairie

Individual: Jake Tarnow (Marquette), Damian Albisu (Michigan City), Kolten Becker (South Central)

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