By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — From a competition standpoint, Northwestern senior Taryn Thor doesn’t possess the same pedigree as some of the runners of her ilk.
She’s only been running competitively for four years, but that hasn’t stopped her from developing herself into an all-state-caliber runner in that short amount of time. She enters Saturday’s IHSAA cross country state finals will a prime opportunity to claim an all-state spot, which is handed out to the top 25 runners in each race.
“It’s been neat to see her do this from the standpoint of focusing on getting better and what she wanted to accomplish, and going out and executing that plan,” Northwestern coach Dave Stevens said. “She’s always been a very good athlete, but when she was younger she never really paid much attention to the running part. Once she realized she could do it, her thirst for it grew and she was able to focus all of that into her training. It’s been special to watch her do it.”
That drive has paid major dividends this season. The Purple Tiger took top honors in the Logansport Sectional in 18:15, and backed that up with a runner-up finish in the Culver Academies Regional in 19:02. A sixth-place showing at the New Prairie Semistate (18:41) would appear to put Thor in a realistic position of claiming a top-20 spot in Saturday’s IHSAA State Finals at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.
”In her case, Taryn has just dedicated herself to get to state. That was her goal,” Stevens said. “She’s done everything she could to be prepared to get to state, from her diet to her workouts — everything was directed to making it to the state finals. She’s done an excellent job with that.”
In the girls state finals race, defending state champ Anna Rohrer of Mishawaka, a junior, has been out most of the season with a stress fracture in her foot and will be unable to defend her title. Columbus North senior Mackenzie Caldwell is the top returner, finishing fourth last year. Carmel senior Kelcy Welch had the fastest semistate time at 17:35.7. Welch finished 17th last year.
On the boys’ side, Thor will be joined by three Howard County seniors in Eastern’s Lewis Duke, Western’s Matt Grider and Kokomo’s Jeremy Breedlove.
Duke won the Logansport Sectional, a race in which he broke the 16-minute barrier for the first time (15:58). He finished seventh in the semistate in 16:09. Those times would put him in a position to finish in the top 40 Saturday.
“I’m running up against the best runners in the state,” Duke said. “It’s going to be different because I probably won’t be up towards the [lead] pack. I’m excited because I get to run against the best. That’s all I could ask for. I’m just going to go out there and run my hardest. It’s going to be fun.”
Grider’s season has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Hampered by a foot injury, he’s improved little by little health-wise, allowing him to finish eighth in the semistate in 16:11, but has a season-best time of 15:57 at his home course, Oakbrook Valley Park.
”After the injury I wasn’t expecting to make it to state at all, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Grider said. “It’s also helped me calm down my nerves. If I expected to make it, I would expect more of myself at the meets. My foot is off and on, but I’m to the point where I can do races and speed workouts without it being too much of a big deal.”
Grider enters with the most big-race experience of his Howard County brethren, finishing seventh in the 3,200-meter run in the track and field state finals in the spring, a race he led for a sizable portion.
”That gets you exposed to racing in front of a big crowd and racing with faster people,” Grider said. “Since you’ve already done it, you know what to expect. Already having that experience will allow me to not be as nervous.”
Kokomo’s Jeremy Breedlove also will make the trip looking for all-state accolades. Making it to state fulfills a life-long dream for the Wildkat leader.
”It was just a weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I’m normally really nervous before my races and everything up to this has just been preparation for this moment. Now that I’ve made it I can just relax and have one last race to go out on. It’s a huge deal, but I don’t have that pressure of ‘I have to do this to advance to the next level,’ because this is all there is.”
Breedlove finished 12th in the semistate at 16:19, but has run the fastest time in Howard County this season, a 15:51 at the Marion Invitational earlier this season at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“There will be a lot more people in the race, and almost all of them are going to be a lot faster, so I’ll have to try to control myself and not go out too fast,” Breedlove said. “As long as I don’t go out too fast and die at the end of the race, I’ll be extremely happy.”
Fort Wayne Concordia senior Zachary Panning is top returner, taking 2nd last year. He had the state’s top semistate time last week at 15:19.