TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — On a windy and cool Saturday, more than 200 runners lined up for a chance to win a girls state high school state cross country championship at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
Twenty-four teams vied for the right to hoist the trophy and to be remembered as champions, while 40 individual runners who qualified were chasing the overall title.
For the third time in school history and the first in 25 years, the Pendleton Heights Lady Arabians were one of those 24 teams and finished 14th.
After winning the sectional and regional rounds, Pendleton finished third at a difficult New Haven semi-state to advance to the first state final for the team since 1988. Coming into the finals, Pendleton was ranked 10th in the state. Sophomore Alex Buck led the way with a 19th place finish.
Carmel and Columbus North were expected to be the teams to beat and it held true on Saturday. Carmel, led by individual race winner Kelcy Welch, defeated Hamilton Southeastern 76-122 to win the team title. Columbus North was third, West Lafayette was fourth and Avon was fifth.
As the runners broke from the starting line, Sierra Moore of Elkhart eased out to an early lead but was quickly chased down by Welch and Mackenzie Caldwell of Columbus North. Buck was battling and was in the top ten at the three-quarter mark but faded a little down the stretch, finishing in the 19th spot with a time of 18:35.1.
The experience of making the state finals made for a lasting memory for the team, but especially the two seniors. Chelsea Blackwell finished 132nd in a time of 21.02 and fought back tears as she explained how much it meant to make it to the state final as a senior after a rough freshman year.
Fellow senior Maddi Hinton finished 136th, four seconds behind Blackwell. “It was an amazing experience,” Hinton said. “Our goal was to get here and try our hardest, which I think we did.” Hinton and Blackwell both acknowledged the level of work it took to make it to state finals.