MUNCIE — Lapel coach Darrell Richardson was quite emotional following Saturday's Delta cross country regional at the Muncie Sportsplex. On the one hand, most of the seniors on the girls team saw their cross country careers come to an end.
But on the other side of the equation, his boys team will be going further than it's ever gone before.
Led by individual champion Luke Combs, the Bulldogs placed fourth and will advance to semistate for the first time in school history.
Senior Paige Rich, one of five girls seniors who have run together for these four years, was the lone Bulldog girls runner to advance. Noelle Loller missed advancing by one spot while Lauren Smith and Kara Lutz also came up just short. Loller, Smith and Lutz have run at semistate before, but this will be Rich's first trip.
"We're happy for the boys side. They're the first team in school history (to advance to semistate)," Richardson said. "We're disappointed that the girls didn't get out. It's a team sport, not an individual sport. It takes five to score, and we just didn't have it today. We've got Paige moving on. She ran hard down the stretch and moved up some spots, which is good."
Combs, meanwhile, picked up his second win in as many weeks, repeating his Pendleton Heights sectional championship and repeating as Delta regional champ. Where last week he broke away from the pack early, this time around, he let the runners from Fishers set the pace early before closing out the race down the stretch.
"I wasn't feeling great midrace, so I just decided to let them set the pace and I'd sit on them until I was ready to make my move," Combs said. "I had a good week of training this week. My legs weren't fresh, but they felt pretty good. I had a little side-stitch. So I let them take the pace. It felt better as I went along and ... once I was able to relax, it just went away."
The PH boys, who are looking to return to the state finals as a team, also advanced with a third-place showing, led by senior Milan Jones in seventh. Caleb Harrington edged teammate Sean Roan for 20th, Jayden Wenning placed 28th and Kyle Drinkut was 35th for the Arabians.
In addition to Combs, Carson Huber was 34th, Killian O'Connor was 44th, Jesse McCurdy 45th and Luke Rich was 70th for Lapel.
Frankton placed fifth for the second straight week to advance. Kyran Planalp led the way for the Eagles in 24th place. He will be joined at semistate by Dmitri Margaritidis in 37th, Bradley Lawrence in 38th, Zach Davenport in 55th and Jake Lashure in 69th.
Frankton coach Andre Lo was happy with the personal bests and season bests turned in by the Eagles.
"I told the boys that, no matter what happened, they competed," Lo said. "I was pleased even before (advancement) was announced. That just took the excitement to another level."
Advancing individually were Michael Taylor from Anderson Prep with a 10th-place finish and Liberty Christian's Negesse Kishpaugh, who placed 17th.
Pendleton Heights will also advance its girls team to semistate — the only area girls team to do so — with a second straight third-place run. They were led by freshmen Katie Jones (17th) and Catherine Dudley (18th). Freshman Laney Ricker was 23rd, followed closely by senior Riley Hays in 24th and a fourth freshman in Berkeley Lord in 27th.
All according to coach Melissa Hagerman's "plan".
"We mixed up the order again. We don't want anyone to know our secret," Hagerman said. "That's not true. We don't have a secret. The hard practices are starting to pay off. They're peaking at the right time. I think we had five of seven with personal records today."
One of the more interesting races came for the top individual to advance. Elwood senior Kaylee Lane just edged Alexandria freshman Reanna Stinson and came in 25th. Those two, along with Rich, will be the only three individuals to move on for the girls.
While Lane returns to semistate, Stinson is the first Alexandria runner to reach this step since 2005.
"I feel very excited for it," Stinson said. "I gave it my all in the end. I've definitely gotten better throughout the year and improved each race."
These runners and teams will compete at the New Haven semistate next Saturday at 1 p.m.