IHSAA 2017 Cross Country Semi - State Previews: #4 New Prairie

New Prairie Semi State

Boys Teams: Lowell, Crown Point, Lake Central, Highland, Hobart, Valparaiso, Morgan Township, Chesterton, New Prairie, Portage, McCutcheon, West Lafayette, WL Harrison, Crawfordville, Fountain Central, Warsaw, Culver Academies, Plymouth, Caston, Manchester.

We will have a pack of teams fighting to be King of the North this Saturday at the New Prairie Semi-State. This race is sneaky good, and chalk full of some of the best teams in the State. There will be six team toeing the line of Saturday who are in this week's IATCCC Poll, plus a team or two that should be ranked. As is the case in the other Semi-States, with only six tickets available for Terre Haute next week. That leaves very little room for error on Saturday morning. Let's start at the top, and work our way through the qualifying positions.

Valparaiso comes in at the top ranked team, and it is fully justified. They have been one of the best performing teams in Indiana this year, even knocking off elite teams like #2 Westview aand #10 Avon in the New Prairie Invitational and THSB State Preview, respectively. They seem to be heading towards a podium finish next week back at Terre Haute, a stark difference from their 20th place finish last year. While they certainly can't take anything for granted, their top five have averaged 16:15 this season, and they are a compete team from one to seven. There is a possibility that this senior laden team could put their scoring five all in the top 25 finishers, which would virtually seal the title for them. That being said, they will have to make sure their runners are keeping tabs of Lowell's position in the race.

Lowell is the standout when it comes to teams that can possibly take down Valparaiso. They are led by senior Alec Fleming, who will be looking to to get a top 5 finish at Terre Haute. The task at hand though is to get his team that crucial one point on Saturday. It won't be easy, but he is certainly a favorite to do it. Lowell runs with a much looser spread between their one and five runners than Valparaiso, 1:20 vs 33 second, so low points from the their top runners are important to start their scoring off. If they want to win though, their fourth and fifth runners need to break into the Top 40, which means breaking 17 minutes. It isn't impossible, but will be tough. The rest of the field is completely wide open. With four spots left, there about six teams with a chance to punch their tickets to the State Championships.

Crown Point needs sophomore Geno Chistofanelli to have a shot to advance, but he sat out at Regionals. If he is back and was just resting last week, he should be in the front and help his team advance. Morgan Township is a team that needs some attention. This is a school with an enrollment of 244. That makes the the 349th largest school out of 407 in the State. Yet in a single classed system, they are on the brink of advancing to the State Championship against teams with enrollments literally 8x larger than theirs. They have consistently been ranked as one of the top teams in Indiana, reaching as high as 14th this week. It won't be easy, but I give them a great shot of wrapping up that fourth spot.

That leaves us with Warsaw, McCutcheon and West Lafayette fighting for two spots to get to Terre Haute. I think Warsaw has the depth in their team and the low stick talent in Zeb Hernandez to make it through. They have the third lowest team average in the Semi-State which will be a big advantage.

The last spot could very well be between McCutcheon and West Lafayette, and it could be a close as a handful of points. The stats have these two teams incredibly close. West Lafayette beat McCutcheon by 9 points at the Harrison Invite, again at the New Prairie Invite and took the Sectional Title. Last week at Regionals, McCutcheon finally beat West Lafayette by 2 points to take the title. This is the battle to watch in this race. I give the edge to West Lafayette.

So that is who I am predicting to push their tickets to the State Championships. Valparaiso wins, Lowell, Crown Point, Morgan Township, Warsaw and West Lafayette all make it to Terre Haute.

The race up front will be very intriguing. Like I mentioned before, Alec Fleming from Lowell will be there, but right on his shoulder should be Jakob Kintzele from Chesterton, Will Persin from McCutcheon, and Mitchell Rans from Caston. Fleming and Kintzele are the biggest names in the field. Flemming is undefeated so far this season, while Kintzele has been under 16 minutes in six of his seven races in 2017. Persin and Rans cannot be forgotten. Persin has run an excellent season this year, while just Rans is the finished 4th in last year's State Championship and is the defending champion from last year. I give the edge to Fleming though, who has been running the best so far this season

Girls Teams:  Lowell, Crown Point, Munster, Lake Central, Hobart, Valparaiso, Chesterton, Laporte, Portage, Rensselaer Central, West Lafayette, Twin Lakes, WL Harrison, McCutcheon, Benton Central, Warsaw, Rochester, Maconaquah, Western, Culver Academies.

There a depth of talent in this field again, with six teams in this week's IATCCC poll. Those six come in with some space between them and the field, but it isn't a large gap. Every single team will have to show what what the got this Saturday if they want their season to continue. Like the guys, let's take this apart top to bottom.

The ladies from Valparaiso come in as a really solid favorite. They are ranked fifth in this week's poll. The stats are tilted heavily in their favor to back up their top ranking. They have the top team average this season, compared to the rest of the field, coming in at 19:25. That is 25 seconds better than the next team, Chesterton. Valparaiso missed the podium at the State Championships last season by just 24 points. This year, they've been running like they are on a mission. The should be one step closer at the end of Saturday, with a Semi-State win under their belts.

While West Lafayette is ranked higher this week, I think that Chesterton is the next best team in this field on Saturday. Like I said, they have the second best team average this season. They also ran within 15 points of Valparaiso last week, losing 35 to 48. That is a really solid effort, and if they can run like that 2 weeks in a row, they should have no problem advancing to the final round.

Lowell, West Lafayette, Laporte, and Crown Point are in that 3-6 tier in my analysis. They are all close in the stats, with team averages and spreads all close to each other. Lowell has a solid advantage in Jordyn Boyer, who is a top 10 runner. She will be competing for the win with Twin Lakes Maggie Gutwein. While Lowell has the largest spread of the top teams in the field, this should be counterbalanced with Boyer's top finish.

Laporte for me has the next team with an advantage behind Shelby Riehle, who should get the lowest stick out of any of the runners from West Lafayette, Laporte and Crown Point. Riehle will be in the front pack and should easily finish in the top five, which will secure her team a great chance at advancing. West Lafayette and Crown Point have solid teams that should finish strong and secure a ticket to the next round over teams like Twin Lakes and Munster.

Valparaiso should win, Lowell, Chesterton, West Lafayette, Laporte, and Crown Point should advance.

The individual race upfront will be a spicy one, between Boyer and Gutwein. These are two runners who will be looking to finish in the top 10 next week in Terre Haute. They have faced off once so far this season, at the New Prairie Invite, with Gutwein taking the win by 20 seconds. I think it will be more of the same on Saturday. Gutwein for the win.