TERRE HAUTE —
TERRE HAUTE — Sometimes the best plan is the one you drop before you begin.
Barr-Reeve-s Connor Sorrells won the boys high school cross country staet championship Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course to cap a final year of running that included conference, sectional, regional and semistate championships.
Sorrells and coach JayR Perkins approached the race believing they could let fast starters set the pace and then allow them to come back to the pack.
But Saturday’s strong north winds, a good majority of the inner loop of the course runs from south to north, left that strategy questionable.
And when Fort Wayne Concordia’s Zachary Panning joined the trio of runners at the front, the strategy was definitely dead.
“He (Panning) had 10 seconds on us, especially after 3K, the race is usually won,” Sorrells said. “Something had to happen. I trusted my instincts and tried to close the gap. Luckily for me, he was a little tired from leading the whole race.”
Trailing Panning by 10 seconds with 3K of the 5K race gone, Sorrells looked at Hamilton Southeastern’s Troy Reeder and said it was time to make a move. Sorrells and Reeder, who will be teammates at Furman University next fall, were leading the pack that was trailing Panning.
Perkins said it was definitely time to go.
“Once they got to 4K, he (Sorrells) had to have that margin narrowed down, and he did that,” Perkins said. “It was a really bold move, and nobody really went with him.”
“I came up on my teammate Troy,” Sorrells said. “We were running second and third. I came up on him, he’s going to my teammate next year, and I came up beside and said come on let’s close this gap.”
Sorrells made the move, but Reeder couldn’t follow.
“He (Reeder) really didn’t respond that much,” Sorrells said. “He did a little bit, but I knew I had to do something drastic if we were going to reel him (Panning) in. Luckily I did.”
Sorrells noted his future teammate could have been the winner as well.
“I know he (Reeder) is a bit disappointed now,” Sorrells said. “He’s just as good a runner as I am. We all wanted to win. I’m happy with it.”
The Barr-Reeve runner had eliminated the gap one-half meter later, and by the 4K mark was stretching his own advantage.
After running the final stretch in the north wind and making the turn for home, Sorrells completed the final yards with the wind, and the field, trailing.
He topped Panning by five seconds with Reeder another three seconds behind in third.
“It worked out to where it was almost the perfect race,” Perkins said. “We had a bit of a strategy, but when we got here and saw what the wind was going to do, we kind of scratched that. We thought if anyone went out, we might let them go a bit, but we wanted to stay with Reeder.”
“We really didn’t have a set plan,” Sorrells said. “There were a couple of things we did know. We knew there were 10 or 12 runners here that were just as good, if not better on any given day, than me. We run that race again, I may run two or three times.”
While race strategy can change during an event, Sorrells was quite pleased with the final run.
“I can’t complain at all about the race,” Sorrells said. “The race was as good as I could have wanted it.”
“We thought we wanted to wait until about the 4K mark to really make a concerted effort,” Perkins said. “He (Sorrells) did before then because he was trailing by nine or 10 seconds. He (Sorrells) ran just a great final race. Once he got to Panning, he pretty much decided it was going to be his state championship to win.”
Perkins said before the race that knowing how runners feel at the start is something that neither coach nor runner may totally know until the first mile is completed. On this day, that was not the case for the state champion.
“I think the body and mind felt good,” Sorrells said of the pre-race. “I still had confidence from last weekend (his win at the Brown County semistate), and judging from last year to this year, it was light years better.”
Sorrells did not have the same semistate and state finals success as a junior.
“Last year I got smacked at the semistate,” Sorrells said. “I wasn’t really ready for it. But I came to semistate this year and ran my race and a lot of the confidence carried to today (Saturday).”
Sorrells said his past cross country and track experience played a key role in the victory.
“Crucial,” Sorrells said. “I truly believe that if I had not come here as a sophomore and get 106th and have that disappointment, and come here last year and get 22nd — if it weren’t for those two things, I don’t think I would be here. Everything just came into place. It has all been beneficial. They taught a lot of good lessons.”
Viking teammate Damon Pruett finished 36th in the race. He ran a time of 16:04, which both he and Perkins thought could get him into contention for a top 15 place and all-state honors.
But 15th turned out to be 15:45, run by Ari Coulopoulos of Valparaiso.
“He didn’t run bad,” Perkins said of Pruett. “If you’re off just five or six seconds at this level — it was faster than it has taken since I’ve been coming here. He’s a little down, but he has nothing to hang his head about. He’s a strong runner who has post season and a college career still to come.”
Perkins agreed it appeared Pruett didn’t look as comfortable as he would have liked.
“He probably held back a little bit too much in the early part,” Perkins said. “If you do that here, it’s just so hard to work yourself back up into that top 20. I’m very proud of his performance.”
The two ran together since the seventh grade for Barr-Reeve. Winning the title was something Sorrells had envisioned since his freshman year.
“My career goal was a state championship,” Sorrells said. “As a freshman, I had a really stacked class around me with a bunch of guys across the state that were just as good as me. I knew if I didn’t lace them up every day with the mentality of being a state champion my senior year, or at least having a chance for that, I couldn’t slack off. There were plenty of other dudes who wanted it just as bad as I did.”
“It’s kind of hard to put into words,” Perkins said of working with both. “All the hard work they have done, and I’ve had some good runners in the 25 or so years I’ve had. I don’t think I’ve had as talented as runners with the work ethic over this past four years. It’s a culmination of hard work, talent, and it feels pretty good.”
TERRE HAUTE —
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