MARION — Given the mix of veteran runners and talented newcomers, people have expected big things from the Columbia City girls’ cross country squad this year.
The No. 17 Lady Eagles are living up to those expectations. Saturday, Columbia City repeated their sectional winning performance, placing five runners in the top 15 finishers, including a 1-2 finish by freshman Samantha Roush and senior Renee Menzie to take the Marion regional crown run at Indiana Wesleyan University.
In a reversal from the sectional finishing order, this time it was freshman Samantha Roush that took the win crossing the line in 18:32.79 tying the course record set by DeKalb’s Autumn Beachy in 2008.
Running an almost perfect race, Roush had a commanding lead by the halfway mark and was not challenged as she finished almost 14 seconds ahead of Menzie, who took second in 18:46.47.
The regional title was the first as a team for Columbia City since 2007. The Lady Eagles return to the New Haven semistate, run at the Plex, where the top six teams and the top 15 individuals advance to the state finals.
To get there, the Lady Eagles placed their top five runners among the top 15 finishers and two others within the top 26 to garner a team total of 38 points, 13 better than runner up Huntington North with 51. Homestead placed third with a team total of 69 points, with South Adams fourth at 129 points and Norwell claiming the final semistate qualifying spot with 151 points.
Freshman Brooke Werstler took eighth place, finishing in 19:22, while senior Laken Lefever ran 14th, crossing the line in 19:31.47. Lefever edged fellow senior Samantha Engle by just over half a second. Engle took 15th in 19:32.03.
“This is the best team in combined time that Columbia City has ever fielded in the regional,” Columbia City coach Bob Fahl said. “Being the first coach of cross country here, I can say that and know that it is.”
A sixth Eagle, sophomore Carlee Hearld finished just behind Engle, taking 16th in 19:35.38. The final Eagle runner, freshman Erin Knepple finished 27th, coming in with a time of 20:19.94.
“No cross-country coach or for that matter any coach, could ask for more of a positive attitude, better team relationship, and more desire to succeed than coach Hearld and myself got from these girls in the past couple of weeks,” Fahl noted. “We had a really good race at the New Haven Invitational where we placed second. We had a better race at the conference meet, and each week from the invitational on each meet has been better, and this one is absolutely no exception.
“They worked hard, they ran well, and I am just so proud of them.”
Churubusco also ran in the girls’ race. Paced by Alex Eyer’s 36th-place finish, the other Lady Eagles placed 10th as a team. Rachel Fehring placed 42nd, with Nicole Wormcastle picking up 52nd-place. Nicole Lampe (55th), Elizabeth Fleming (68th), Jacey Keener (69th), and Jenna Decker (70th) rounded out the runners for Churubusco.