It all comes down to this

Photo by Jim PetersFreshman Lillian Zelasko of New Prairie finished seventh in the Chesterton Regional and hopes to qualify for state out of today's New Prairie Semistate.

Tickets for the big dance are available today at New Prairie, though the trips to Terre Haute have to be earned, not purchased.

Runners will line up this morning on the Cougars course with the hopes of qualifying for the state finals in "Cross Country Town" in a week.

For some, it's a long shot, for a few, it's expected, and for others whose chances fall somewhere in between, they can't wait for the gun to sound.

"Our whole season was focused on this race," South Central coach Isaac Bules said. 

Bules has Adelaide Young Brust in the field, one of four La Porte County girls, joining New Prairie's Lillian Zelasko and Juliana Kroll and La Porte's Ella Bensz.

"I really just want to push it my hardest," Zelasko said. "I really want to go to state."

Zelasko finished seventh in the semistate, positioning herself to have a realistic chance at advancing.

"I've got high hopes for her," Cougars coach Julie Jeszenszky said. "She's going to have to work for it though. Semistate on to state is definitely going to be the hardest. She's got to keep it in her mind that she's got a shot. There is a possibility."

Young Brust has been here before. It's her third semistate, and she has her best chance of qualifying this time after missing out by 23.3 seconds last year. Ten individuals not advancing with teams earn a berth.

"This is a fast year," Bules said. "The way I'm looking at it is there will be about 18 girls definitely under 19:30 and that 19th spot will be the tenth individual to get out. That's what we're shooting for. Last year, I think it was 23rd and about 19:40, but at the end of the day, 19:30 was our goal last year and has been our goal this year. Everything in training points to Adelaide running that time with no problem, but (it's) executing on race day. She has been working very hard. She is the fittest she's ever been. She deserves it. I would love to see that payoff for her."

Third in the Chesterton Regional, New Prairie's boys are trending upward with sectional and regional champion Tim O'Laughlin, Josh Baltes and Quinn Beall leading the way.

"I think we'll be able to do something equal as well," Cougars coach John Arndt said. "From a mass model standpoint, I would say we'd probably finish somewhere around 10th, but the model hasn't really predicted what we'd do the last few weeks. I get a sense we're better than what the rankings say, that maybe on that day we could be interestingly better, if that makes sense, without making a prediction."

Being on your home turf certainly doesn't hurt. 

"It's a pretty cool opportunity to know you're one of those teams who can make things interesting, that we can be in a good spot," Arndt said. "It's different racing, too. It's competitively stronger than (our) invite, even though we ran up. Some teams can handle it, some teams blow up. I hope we're one that's comfortable in the chaos. We know every root. We're veteran racers for the most part."

That includes O'Laughlin, who looks to markedly improve over his 46th-place finish a year ago.

"I'm going to try to keep doing what I'm doing, maybe key off some different guys," he said. "Last year, I built it up in my mind. I was on the edge of making it, I hyped it up too much, my first mile was a mess and it messed up my whole race. Too many jitters. This year, I just want to be relaxed. I know I can do it."

La Porte will need a major bump from its regional showing to have a shot at the top six teams.

"The ball's in our court. We control our destiny," Slicers coach Corbin Slater said. "We still have a shot at making state, but we can't have a performance like that. We've got to want it a little more. We have to pick ourselves up and not feel sorry for ourselves, run with some swag again. We have to go out and get it."

If the Slicers don't make it, sophomore Cole Raymond at least hopes to move on himself.

"I'll probably go with (O'Laughlin), if not faster, then try to do his strategy," Raymond said. "After Agony (Hill), just hammer that two-mile with whatever I've got. I'm going to put myself in the top 10. It's going to hurt more than ever, but I'm going to be ready to embrace it."

The field also includes Michigan City's Damian Albisu and Marquette's Jake Tarnow, who's also in his third semistate.

New Prairie Semistate

Today

Boys, 10:30 a.m.

Girls, 11:15 a.m.

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