NEW CARLISLE — The northwest winds were blowing strongly enough at Saturday’s New Prairie Sectional that it seemed like one big gust could pick up little Lillian Zelasko and carry away the Cougars cross country runner like she was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz minus the sparkly shoes.
“The wind was deceiving, but I just had to find some girls to latch on to and stick with them,” Zelasko said. “The cold actually felt really nice. I don’t look forward to (the wind), but it’s something you have to push through.”
Zelasko kept her feet firmly on the ground, moving them to a sixth-place finish in the meet in a time of 19 minutes, 44.8 seconds, not quite a minute behind winner Ava Gilliana of Valparaiso.
“I’m very proud,” Zelasko said. “I’m really happy with my time and how everything panned out. My end goal (this season) was to run under 20 (minutes) and, if possible, go to semistate. I’m so happy. I never expected to make it this far.”
One of six La Porte County runners to advance to Saturday’s Chesterton Regional, Zelasko will be joined at Sunset Hill Park by teammate Juliana Kroll (22nd) and classmates Audrey Henning (28th) and Ilayna Baltes (30rd) as individual qualifiers. South Central’s Adelaide Young Brust took eighth in 20:01.8, while Michigan City’s Bridget mark eked out the final spot in 44th (23:00).
New Prairie tied La Porte for the fifth and final team spot with 130 points, but lost out on the sixth-runner tie-breaker.
“It’s almost worse than if we’d gotten creamed,” Cougars coach Julie Jeszenszky said. “We knew we’d probably be fifth or sixth. As I was watching it, I was actually even surprised we tied La Porte. I thought they had us by quite a bit. Our top four ran pretty well, but our five, six and seven were kind of far back. Even though we had our top two up there, it was their pack. All the seeds, the ranks, we were the fifth team. I told them in the huddle, (La Porte’s) the underdog, they want this, remember nothing is given, you have to earn it. It didn’t happen for us. (La Porte) worked for it.”
The Cougars’ disappointment meant smiles for the Slicers, who were led by Ella Bensz (14th, 20:25.5). Their second through fifth runners -- Brenna Sobecki, Allison Bender, Ella Dubbs and Rylee Stephany were bunched between 25th and 35th. Sixth runner Tatum Bumgardner broke the tie in LP’s favor.
“INCC Stats had us at about 20 percent for getting out,” LP coach Corbin Slater said. “We knew we would have to run tough and they ran great. There were multiple girls with (personal records) or within seconds of a PR. It’s a really young, inexperienced group. We’re just trying to build that trust, week in, week out. It’s tough when you’re not one of the top teams, keeping your mindset in it, just battling with the teams they’re with in the back.”
New Prairie Sectional
Chesterton Regional qualifiers
Team: La Porte
Individual: Adelaide Young Brust (South Central), Lillian Zelasko, Juliana Kroll, Audrey Henning, Ilayna Baltes (New Prairie), Bridget Mark (Michigan City)