TERRE HAUTE — A half-mile or so into the state cross country race, Tim O'Laughlin found himself with some serious work to do.
"I knew it was going fast, but it's the state meet," the New Prairie senior said.
Situated around 80th, O'Laughlin faced his now-or-never moment Saturday on the Lavern Gibson Championship Course, and he went with it. A decisive surge on the second kilometer of the 5,000-meter race rallied him into medal (top 20) and all-state (top 25) contention, and he made it stand up for a 23rd-place finish in 16 minutes, 12.5 seconds.
"I knew I had to be around 30th, so I made a big move in there," O'Laughlin said. "That definitely set me up for success. I've had good Ks like that before, more like the third and fourth K, and I didn't die as much as I have in the past."
O'Laughlin passed Cougars coach John Arndt with 1,000 meters to go, where he told him he was just outside the top 20, and he ceded just one spot from there.
"It's a lot harder to make moves on guys here than any other race," O'Laughlin said. "I wasn't dying. I knew I would end up there. I think I slowed down, but so did everybody else. I had a decent kick, so I was pretty happy. It's gratifying for sure. I wanted to get top 20, but I'm happy with what I got."
It wasn't until afterward that Arndt realized O'Laughlin had to make an early push.
"I had no idea where he was at the K because it's so tucked away," Arndt said. "I saw him coming around the curve at the mile and said, whoa, he's in position, I'm sure he's feeling it. It started breezing up, but he was tucked in an area where I think a lot of traffic was blocking the wind. He looked good. He
held very good composure, which is good because there are some excellent kickers even through that wind.
The nice thing when you've got a kid working up front, you actually can give them their position and they can use it as motivation to hold their position. They know top 25's all state."
Running sites rated O'Laughlin 30th coming into the meet, so the result was a definite success.
"I know (assistant) coach (David) Dailey, especially in track, he sees him as a top 10 guy," Arndt said. "He was thinking better than 20th. I thought, wow, that'll be reaching, but I'll never underestimate him."
New Prairie, which entered the field Monday after a scoring error was discovered in the semistate results, finished 22nd with 462 points. Lake Central, the team it was tied with before the numbers were corrected, was 25th.
"We were predicted to be 24th out of the 25," Arndt said before the outcome was announced. "I wouldn't be surprised if we were be better than 24th, how much better, I wouldn't even hazard to guess."
Josh Baltes finished 104th, Quinn Beall 127th, Alex Cicero 173rd and Tom Wykoff 186th.
"I'm pretty sure this course ran more challenging than New Prairie last week and the times were pretty similar for the most part," Arndt said. "We didn't do too poorly. Josh just ran beautiful, Alex was our fourth."
It was a memorable day for the Baltes family as Josh's dad, Joe, was among the group of former runners and coaches recognized on the anniversary of their achievement. Joe Baltes was on the 1994 New Prairie team that took second in the state.
"I told them to say silver anniversary," Baltes said. "Don't say 25 years."
Arndt was happy to see his seniors -- O'Laughlin, Beall and Wykoff -- cap their careers at state.
"It's just a sense of completion with this group, not just to a season, but to a stretch, a career," he said. "As a coach, it's a very strange feeling not to say, what's next? There's no more next. They said it felt surreal. This is the pinnacle. What other state has a one-class system like ours? I don't know any."
La Porte's Cole Raymond placed 115th in 16:59.1.
"We had the mindset kind of like Mitchell (Gits) last year to put himself in the 25, 35 range," coach Corbin Slater said. "I think it was a big group and it was kind of hard for him to gauge where he was. I think at a certain point they finally stretched it out and I'm sure at the 2K, 3K, he had some thoughts, oh gosh, I'm in 70th place. I think if he was up there, he would have had some adrenaline. He's an adrenaline-based runner, and I don't think he ever had it. It was a learning experience. He's a sophomore, it was the first time he was out there as an individual. Learn from it and get better at it next time."