Gabriel Sanchez looks to continue his undefeated season Saturday.
The Northwest Crossroads Conference Championship will take place this Saturday. This is one of the smaller conferences in the state, with just six teams set to take the line on both the girls and boys sides. Even with this being a smaller conference meet, there's a handful of rising talent and state caliber teams set to take the line Saturday morning and should make for a great meet in Northwest Indiana.
Location: Lowell High School
Admission: $5 per person
8:00 - 8:45 AM Team Check-In
9:00 AM Boys Race
9:45 AM Girls Race
10:45 AM Awards
Starting off with boys, we have 2 state medalists contenders set to battle it out Saturday. That being Gabriel Sanchez of Lowell and Lucas Guerra of Highland. Guerra comes into the meet with a slighter personal best of 15:33 and Sanchez isn't far behind holding a personal best of 15:34. The course tends to run a little faster and with a few slight course changes this year, we could see these 2 go sub 15:30 and both come away with a new personal best. As they are both potential state medalists, there's a good chance we could see two play it safe and just run something in the 15:50 range. Another one of Lowell's top distance runners, Jacob Durr could have a huge race come Saturday. Based on the projections, he should come in 3rd place. With Sanchez and Guerra in the race, Durr could stick with those 2 for the first mile or two and come away with a new personal best. A lot of factors play into what everyone's strategy is going into the meet, and Lowell will need Durr later on in the postseason so as we mentioned earlier we could see a more conserative and ultimately a slower race. Needless to say, conference meets typically are on the slower side but tend to bring some good action. Matteo Garcia, Max Lindenmeyer, Bryan Cherry, and Bruce Liepart are some names to look out for, and all have personal best under 17. Looking at the current projections, other than Highland, these athletes and their teams aren't expected to move on to state, meaning we could see these boys go for it and run a personal best.
Shifting over to the team battle, we have Lowell as the favorite, with 2 expected to come inside the top 3. Lowell's top 5 could all finish within the top 15 which is huge, and almost guarantees them the conference championship. Lowell has a lot of younger guys on the roster, but we shouldn't underestimate the ability of these athletes come postseason. Lowell seems to really come together during the post-season and Saturday's conference meet could give us a preview on how far this team can go this postseason. Highland is the next team in contention for the conference championship. Guerra will be a huge help on their chances, but they'll need more than that to put them over Lowell. It'll take some big races out of their 3-5 but anything could happen. It'll definitely be something to watch throughout the meet. The last team we're going to talk about is Munster. Right now it looks like they're capable of taking the 3rd position but there's a chance they could sneak into that 2nd spot on the right day. They don't have a key low-stick runner like Lowell and Highland do, but their overall split is a 50.70 and a split under 1 minute is always huge. Their top 5 all look like they could break into the top 20, and if at least 4 can break inside the top 15, that might be just enough for them to grab that 2nd position. Overall the team battle will be an interesting one to watch, and will give us a preview of what we could see from these teams throughout the postseason!
Moving onto the girls, we have a few headlines to talk about. First thing being, Karina James from Lowell and a rising talent in Indiana, looks to take home the individual title Saturday. She comes into the meet undefeated and should have no problem continuing that streak. She's been the one to beat all season and will be throughout most of the postseason. It'll be interesting to see how this race goes out, and rather or not she decides to take it out fast or go out slower and run something in the 18:30 range. Looking at the field, she shouldn't have to run anything close to her personal best of 18:07. As we talked about earlier on the boys side, this race should be on the slower side. Even if James goes out slow and has a few girls with her towards the later part of the race, James has great closing speed and should have no problem gapping them to the finish. Senior Maria Blaesing of Munster, is the next girl up to compete for the individual title. She comes into the meet with a personal best of 18:46, and if this race goes out slower and James does not gap the field early we could see Blaesing with James through the first mile or two. It'll take a lot out of Blaesing to stick with James through 3 miles, and is unlikely, but not entirely impossible. Munster does not look like a team to advance deep into the postseason, and Blaesing is a senior, so maybe she can go out and run something special to cap off her high school career. Other names we could see up front are Hannah Robbins, Lilli Greiner, Grace Aurand, and Sydney Belk. All come into the meet with a personal best under 20, and we could some flashy races out of this pack.
Last but not least, we have the girls team battle. Adding up the numbers, the outright favorite is Lowell. They have a key low-stick runner in James, and some top talent that could all come in the top 10. Looking at their roster, Megan Kaczur, Jazmin Grund, Alexia Bibakis, Reilly Boyer, and Sydney Kramer all have a shot at placing in the top 10. It'll be an interesting race to watch some of Lowell's graduating seniors battle some of the younger talent on the team for a chance at a top 10 spot at the conference championship. They have by far the best average in the field, with a 19:47. The next best average is Munster, with a 20:30. Munster has two front-runners, Maria Blaesing and Hannah Robbins. After those two, they fall off and they're next best girl is in the 20th place range. They'll need some big races out of their 3-5 if they want any shot at shocking the Red Devils on their home course. A team we could see mix up the 2nd place position is Highland. They have two solid frontrunners, Grace Aurund and Hannah Robbins. They'll be up front and in the conversation for a top 5 position. The help will need to come from there 3-5 as they fall off a bit. The key for Highland will be looking for those red jerseys, and making sure to get as many girls as they can in front of those red jerseys of Munster. Overall, we shouldn't see anything to spectacular when it comes to the team battle, but if anything it will just give us a slight preview of what we could see out of these teams and individuals later on in the post-season.