Columbus North, Mathison and Baker take top honors Nike XC Town Twilight

by Steve Underwood

Columbus North, Mathison and Baker unstoppable in the rain at Nike XC Town Twilight, Presented by The Garrett Companies

Nothing, not heavy rain or the threat of worse, was going to stop some of the Midwest’s top harriers from having a blast at the Nike XC Town Twilight, Presented by The Garrett Companies, on Saturday, Oct. 2 at LaVern Gibson Championship XC Course.

That was especially true in the Boys and Girls Midwest Race of Champions. The big smiles on the faces of individual winners Kole Mathison and Lily Baker seemed to say, ‘I crossed the finish line first AND overcame this crazy downpour on this awesome course.’ They were looks of triumph, of having emerged on top after a great adventure.

And it WAS a great adventure, from the partnership between the NSAF and XC Town USA that resulted in a rebranding of the existing Nike Valley Twilight, to the weeks of planning and execution that brought nearly 1,500 runners to LaVern Gibson, to the final post-awards fireworks that lit up the sky after 10pm Saturday before everyone headed home.

Along with Mathison and Baker, the night’s biggest winners were the boys and girls of Columbus North HS, who backed up their state IATCCC and Midwest Regional #1 rankings with narrow victories in both ROC clashes (see below). It was the first major prep meet of the season at LaVern Gibson, a chance to see the state meet course for Indiana runners and a Nike Cross Regionals Midwest Preview for everyone.

There were fears that the meet might have significant weather delays due to the massive storm system lumbering through the Midwest. But that system was less severe than anticipated and the worst of it apparently missed Terre Haute.

Co-Meet Directors Kristi Rieger (NSAF) and Jeff Martin (Cross Country Town USA) were especially pleased to see the excitement on the athletes’ faces. “Nothing could stop these kids, that’s for sure,” said Rieger. “We had an awesome turnout in the face of inclement weather, and the threat of worse, and we’re grateful for everyone who came out and joined us. Our team here in Terre Haute put on an awesome meet and the course held up beautifully. Thanks to the support of The Garrett Companies, everyone experienced the best of Indiana high school cross-country under the lights and we look forward to taking this event to the next level in the years to come.”

Naturally, the Boys and Girls Midwest Race of Champions provided the biggest fireworks before the grand post-awards finale:

Boys MW ROC: Mathison, a Carmel junior, and Columbus North senior Reese Kilbarger-Stumpf already had one thrilling battle this season: The Eagle Classic three weeks earlier in Nashville, Ind., where Mathison’s 14:57 edged his rival by a single second. This time, as the skies opened up, Mathison went hard from the first mile, building a lead that Kilbarger-Stumpf could never overcome and prevailing, 15:37.4-15:44.7 – very solid times on the course considering the rain. Westfield IN senior Kai Connor was the only other runner who could duck under 16, hitting 15:58.9 in 3rd, ahead of Mathison’s senior teammate Charles Schuman at 16:01.9.

In the team fight, Columbus North’s pack made the difference. With just a 10-second spread between #2 Clayton Guthrie at 16:32 and #5 Mateo Mendez at 16:44, the Bulldogs tallied 95 points. And they needed all of that as surprising Center Grove, led by a 5-6 finish from Parker Mimbela and Griffin Hennessy, was just two point back at 97. Carmel put three in the top 10 and had the best team average time, but had to settle for 3rd at 101. The top out-of-state challenger was York, Illinois’ traditional power, which finished 6th at 182.

Girls MW ROC: The girls Midwest ROC was considered wide-open – unlike the boys which had two clear favorites. But Columbus North junior, Lily Baker – who got a pep talk from her coach Rick Sluder earlier in the day – decided she wasn’t going to be denied. Baker made a strong move in the final kilometer and burst through the tape in 18:17.4 – six seconds up on Homestead (Ind.) soph Addison Knoblauch who had her own strong finish for a runner-up 18:23.9. Carmel took three of the next four spots, with Jasmine Klopstad, Alivia Romaniuk and Jamie Klavon taking 3-4-6. Breaking up that trio was Julia Ray, the top out-of-state runner (Mary Institute-Country Day of St. Louis, Mo.) in 18:36.8.

Meanwhile, Baker’s Bulldogs overcame Carmel’s 3-4-6 by also putting three in the top ten (Julia Kiesler and Brianna Newell followed in 7-9), then ultimately made up their scoring deficit with a 8-point advantage in their 4th-5th runners. It was Columbus North 56, Carmel 60, when the points were tallied, with Noblesville claiming 3rd with 80. O’Fallon (Ill.) was the top out-of-state school in 6th with 174.

The other four races featured exciting competition and finishes that whetted the appetite for the main events.

Girls JV: Carmel started the day victorious in the girls JV race with Lani Samms winning the individual title in 21:13.7 and leading the Greyhounds to the win, scoring 21 to runner-up Noblesville’s 50. Noblesville also had the individual runner-up with Allie Stamm at 21:26.9.

Boys JV: Noblesville ruled the boys JV affair with 29 points, paced by Ashton Burns – who edged Eli Oetken of Trinity HS (Ky.), 17:29.1-17:30.1. Carmel was 2nd with 55 markers.

Girls Open: Avon (Ind.) soph Jessica Hegedus showed she would have been a contender in the Championship race with her dominating 19:01.8 triumph – more than 40 seconds ahead of Emma Kendal’s 19:44.8 (Collins HS, Ky.). Avon put 4 in the top 5 to easily win the team race, with 32 points to Carmel’s 54.

Boys Open: Carmel’s Quavion Hooks made a big move in the 2nd kilo and held off Fishers’ Ethan Nix in the boys open affair, 17:13.7 to 17:15.2. That was also the difference in the team race as the Greyhounds edged their rival, 41-43.

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