The Concordia boys may be one of the favorites to win the cross country state championship this season, but even as the top finishers crossed the finish line on Saturday morning it wasn't clear if the Cadets would take home the Northrop sectional title.
It wasn't until the awards ceremony that the Cadets knew for sure that they had edged Homestead, 34 points to 39, to win their first sectional title since 1990.
Concordia senior Reece Gibson won the race in 15 minutes, 58.3 seconds, and then turned around to see his teammate Wilson Wicker right behind him in second place, finishing in 16:03.9.
"It was all joy. I turned around and Wilson was right there, and I just smiled and told him good job," Gibson said. "It's been pretty awesome. I think a lot of teams look up to us, and it's awesome to go to practice and grind with these guys. Seeing them right there behind me pushes me and motivates me to go a little faster."
Landon Wakeman of Columbia City took third, and Homestead's Keagan Stuckey followed, the first in a pack of Spartans who took fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth.
Carroll took fourth place as a team and Bishop Dwenger fifth to advance to the West Noble regional next week.
Kobe Milledge of Snider finished 13th and was the first among the 10 individuals who will advance to the regional meet without their team.
While the Cadets enjoyed their first sectional title in a generation, the Carroll girls won their 20th straight. Zoe Duffus won in 18:08.7, her teammate Monroe Rayna Fruchey took third, and six of the seven Chargers runners finished in the top 10.
"I really love running in the cold, so I was excited about it," Duffus said of the temperature, which was in the low 40s during her race. "It's a little windy, so that was a little disappointing, but I had a lot of fun out there."
Concordia's Ellie Cates set a personal record as she took second place in 18:21.3. Her Cadets took fourth behind Homestead and Bishop Dwenger.
"I tried to go out more conservative and I tried working up throughout the race, and I think it worked out well," Cates said. "(My coach) told me to not go full out, so he was super proud that I even PRed not going full out. And I think I have more left, and he does too."
Northrop finished fifth and was the final team to advance to the regional. Leo's Eden Norris took 11th place and was the top runner to advance as an individual.
Erin Strzelecki, one of the top girls runners in the state this season and the runner-up at last year's state meet, did not run this week in order to rest up and avoiding peaking too early. Duffus said she intends to do the same thing at next week's regional meet.
"I'm taking a week, a rest from racing and a good training block, so we're kind of switching up our lineup a little bit," Duffus explained. "We're going to have some other girls get an opportunity to race, so I think that's going to be super cool."
WEST NOBLE SECTIONAL: Host West Noble won the boys sectional meet with 39 points to win their 12th sectional title and first since 2013. Angola's Izaiah Steury won the meet in 16:04.7 and will advance as an individual. Colten Cripe was the top Chargers finisher, taking third in 16:27.6. Westview took second as a team, East Noble was third, DeKalb fourth and Churubusco fifth. Lydia Bennett of DeKalb won the girl's race in 19:42.5, beating second-place Taylor Clemens of Angola by more than a minute. East Noble the team title despite their first runner, Rachel Becker, finishing 10th. The Knights won with 65 points, just beating out West Noble's 69. DeKalb, Angola and Westview also advanced on the girls side.
BELLMONT SECTIONAL: Bellmont's Jordan Garlinger, Isaac Fuelling and Kyle Lawson finished 1-2-3 to lead the Braves to their fourth straight sectional title, winning with 21 points. Garlinger won the race in 16:24.2. Clancy McIntire of South Adams took fourth place. The other teams advancing to the Marion regional are, in order of finish, New Haven, Norwell, South Adams and South Side. Gavin Ealey of Bishop Luers finished ninth and will advance as an individual. Norwell won the girls team title, led by a first-place finish by Sarah Mahnensmith in 18:49.8. Bishop Luers was second as a team, followed by South Adams, South Side and Woodlan.
ELKHART CENTRAL SECTIONAL: Wawasee boys finished fifth and will advance to the Elkhart Central regional. Michael Hammer finished ninth in 17:08 to lead the Warriors.
MARION SECTIONAL: Huntington North's Addison Wiley won the girls race in 18:16.5 to lead the Vikings to a second-place finish. Huntington North took third place as a team in the boys race and will advance to the Marion regional. The Vikings were led by Isaiah Clampitt and Jordan Rockey, who finished 13th and 14th in times of 17:00 and 17:01, respectively.