Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union

The boys field begins its race at the Paul Sibray Invitational cross country meet on the campus of Warsaw Community High School Tuesday.
Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union The boys field begins its race at the Paul Sibray Invitational cross country meet on the campus of Warsaw Community High School Tuesday.
The beginning of high school cross country season came Tuesday for Warsaw Community High School and other teams.

While Jacob Kissling and Wini Barnett were again the top WCHS runners, the 2020 Warsaw Tiger Paul Sibray Invitational looked different than the 2019 version in other ways.

With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, runners wore masks or gaiters up until race time. Teams stayed apart until just before the starting gun and were made to head directly back to their team camps after completing the 5,000-meter course.

On a humid day with temperatures in the high 80’s, Kissling was clocked in 16:54. Barnett made the circuit in 20:38.1, placing seventh overall.

“We made sure as a team that we could compete in this heat,” said Kissling. “We practiced in July when it was this hot. I think we knew we could it do it and we just proved it.”

Tanner Stiver (second in 16:59), Harrison Phipps (third 16:59.4), Sam Lechlitner (fifth in 17:10.6), Luke Nier (eighth in 17:27.1), Garrett Hall (11th in 18:04.3) and Nate Knecht (14th in 18:18.8) rounded out the top seven as the Tigers scored 19 points to win the team title. Runner-up Columbia City scored 53, followed by Mishawaka 103, NorthWood 108, Homestead 152, Manchester 155, Tippecanoe Valley 195, Northfield 209 and Lakeland Christian Academy incomplete.

Manchester’s top seven was Carter Bedke (seventh in 17:17.8), Raven King (36th in 19:26), Jake Hesting (43rd in 19;38.4), Elijah Burlingame (52nd in 19:53.6), Cade Jones (56th in 19:59.2), Lane Stetzel (61st in 20:09.8) and J.D. Eberly (83rd in 21:14.5).

Valley was represented by Matthew Howes (16th in 18:24.6), Chase Miller (38th in 19:29.7), Brady Rodgers (95th in 21:28.4), Jace Holloway (118th in 22:38.1), Evan Myers (126th in 23:16.7) and Grayson Shriver (148th in 30:42).

LCA finishers were David Plaslow (101st in 21:47.7), Jude Hall (112th in 22:19.1), Josiah Miller (140th in 25:51.3) and Gabe Anderson (142nd in 26:28.1).

Whitko’s boys entrant was Jacob Porter (41st in 19:36.7).

In the girls race, Mary Eubank (first in 20:15.3) led the way as Penn (31 points) came in first, followed by Leo 69, Warsaw 82, Mishawaka 114, Columbia City 158, NorthWood 169, Manchester 184, Homestead 213, Northfield 255,  Tippecanoe Valley 263 and Lakeland Christian incomplete.

The six Warsaw runners behind Barnett were Ava Knight (13th in in 21:00.7), Regan Brouwer (19th in 21:16.6), Erika Bugg (22nd in 21:43.9), Marisa Howett (25th in 22:01.7), and Whitney Sheperd (27th in 22:06.4) and Amanda Lusinde (29th in 22:11.7).

Manchester was paced by Josie Briner (11th in 20:59), followed by Anna Markham (40th in 23:02.5), Kambree Cashdollar (51st in 23;31.2), Miriam Struble-Hedstrom (82nd in in 25:39.5, Ainsley West (88th in 25:57.1), Gracie Dale (92nd in 26:19) and Evyn Fox (105th in 26:53).

Valley finishers were Chesnee Miller (20th in 20:19.3), Ella Myers (94th in 26:26.8), Maria Henderson (98th in 26:37.4), Ava Craig (108th in 27:10.5) and Talia Holder (114th in 27:42.5).

Kathryn Monsma (129th in 29:50.9) and Fe-Ammari Garcia (137th in 36:11.5) completed the race for LCA.

Whitko girls were Ava Precour (132nd in 30:37.1), Laura Jackson (133rd in 31:15.5) and Stormy Hildebrandt (135th in 32:56.6).

Kissling gave the reason for his improvement and that of his teammates from last cross country season through track and through the summer.

“I always trust the coaches and trust the plan,” said Kissling. “We work hard everyday. We do what (head coach Jim) Mills tells us. That’s a big part of it.”

Mills gave each runner a mileage chart to follow. The Tigers were logging 30 to 50 miles per week.

“There was a gradual ramping up,” said Kissling of the preseason phase of training.

Now that the season is here, Warsaw boys will have two or three workouts and week devoted to race conditions with the others as longer-mileage days.

“The real goal is Saturday meets where it’s just big invitationals,” says Kissling, whose team will also have two Northern Lakes Conference super duals on Tuesdays (xxxx and xxxx) with the NLC meet counting as 50 percent of the overall title and the two duals 25 percent each. Prior to the change, there were five two-way or three-way conference duals.

“We’ve got some guys who’ve improved over the last nine or 10 months,” said Mills. “It was good to see five guys coming in pretty darn close to each other with good times on a hot day.”

Mills said it was not uncommon for the 2019 Tigers to have five or six runners wrap their race within 45 to 50 seconds of one another. On Tuesday, the “pack time” for 1-5 was xxxxx.

“The idea with these guys is to keep getting a little bit better and if they stay like that, we’re going to have a good team,” said Mills. “On any given day I can see any one of four guys running No. 1 for us. Jacob is the most consistent runner we’ve had last year and this year.”

During a normal summer, Mills would have got to have face-to-face time with his runners. He saw them move forward though he wasn’t with them.

“We’ve got a group that will work hard whether I’m there or not. It’s tougher when you’re not there as a coach with your team.

“It’s hard to do anything specific. You’re just putting in a lot of miles.”

Barnett talked about her progress.

“I’m still working up to it,” said Barnett. “I haven’t had much improvement since last year, but it was hot and we had a crazy summer.”

Barnett said it was helpful that runners had been keeping a consistent training schedule since the indoor track season. Tigers head coach Jason Fleming put workouts on the school’s Learning Management System, Google Classroom.

“We’ve been upping our mileage,” said Barnett. “We’re running more than last year. We’re built up more endurance.”

On a typical training week, the Lady Tigers logged 30 to 35 miles.

What is it about Warsaw’s course that stands out?

“The hills, for sure,” said Barnett. “They seem subtle. But there are multiple (hills) and they will hurt you if you don’t push through them.”

Fleming says the Tiger Invitational always provides measuring stick at the beginning of the season.

“Our course is very challenging. The girls know it. It’s deceptively hilly. You don’t think there are hills in Warsaw. But there are a few of them and most of them are on our course.

“The big woods is a 400-meter slow, winding climb up to the top.”

With tight passing lanes in the woods, Fleming said there was a premium on a strong start.

“We wanted to get out early and get good position and then hold that position,” said Fleming. “We got a little more spread out that I wanted to. But I saw a lot of positives.”

Barnett sees new faces on the team and is upbeat about it.

“We’ve got a lot of freshmen who’re going to do really great this year,” says Barnett. “Once we get settled and know who’s where, we’ll try to keep in packs and people with people to push them.”

Barnett says getting the top five to have a “pack time” of 1:30 to 2:00 is not out of the question.

“A lot of the girls are further along than they were last year so I think it’s possible.”.)