The South Knox cross country teams have enjoyed many trips to the Pike Central Regional in recent years, while hoping to add Saturday's trip to Petersburg to the list.
The Lady Spartans have more on the line, as the two-time defending regional champions. But the South Knox boys are capable of adding to their trophy case. Both teams claimed titles together for the first time last Saturday at the South Knox Sectional.
It measures up to be a strong day for Knox County, as the top five teams among the 10 running qualify for the Brown County Semistate. Also the top-10 runners on non-advancing teams advance.
Lincoln qualified for the regional with a fifth-place finish. While the Alices are going to be hard-pressed to qualify for the semistate as a team, they have runners capable of reaching the semistate as individuals. The same could be said for four North Knox runners who are in the Pike Central Regional field.
But the spotlight is on the Lady Spartans, whose first two regional titles have come in the last two years. Despite the sectional championship last week, South Knox is a slight underdog to Princeton, which didn't have one of its usual scorers last week. Evansville Reitz is also a regional champ candidate.
Coach Betsy Couchenour is confident her team can three-peat, with the Petersburg venue playing a big part in her belief.
"I'm sure Princeton is hungry, missing out on the sectional we won. But there's a lot to be said having experiences on these courses, and Princeton didn't run there this year," Couchenour said. "The way we ran last year over there was nothing short of unbelievable, so they know what it feels like at the regional. Our training is the same as last year, and we're ready for a breakthrough race this year."
South Knox has plenty of experience too, led by junior Ava Like. Sophomores Aubrey Nowaskie and Abby Cunningham, junior Peyton Robbins and senior Macie Couchenour comprise the top five, with freshman Ella Like threatening. The Spartans had five of the top 13 finishers at last week's sectional.
Couchenour noted that Nowaskie, who won the Blue Chip Conference meet, needed to be near Like on Saturday. The Tigers also had their 3-4 runners bunched just ahead of Robbins and Couchenour last week. A reversal this Saturday may play a key part.
"Aubrey struggled with some hip pain last week, but her and Ava are good enough to run with anybody there," Couchenour said. "Abby has come on exceptionally well, just like last year at this time. I know this is Peyton's best course, and Macie's as well. I wouldn't put it past Ella to get herself in the mix."
Castle is a bigger favorite in the boys race, and Reitz is also formidable, but South Knox has an outside chance to claim its first title since 2014.
Senior Jacob Siewers should have his confidence soaring, after romping to a 46-second win at the sectional. Coach Matt Toothman said their time split, because of Siewers' dominance, is not going to be measured one-through-five, but two-through-five.
Juniors Dylan Maeder, Caleb Cork and Chase Staggs, along with freshman Ezra Anson claimed fourth, fifth, ninth and 11th last week in a strong team showing. Freshman Zach Woolard, 15th last week, is injured and will be replaced by freshman Sam Singleton. Toothman noted that junior Lane Garner, 26th last week, runs well at Pike Central and is capable of scoring Saturday.
"Jacob is good enough to get third or in the top five, and then we need our top-five to finish within 20th-25th place. I'm looking for our 2-5 gap to be 30 seconds. We need to have that pack mentality with those four," Toothman said.
"Castle and Reitz are both good. We scored 69 there last year and were in second place. Usually when you're under 70, you're winning," Toothman said. "We're going to try to go out fast and hang on, just grab on to what we can and grind the second half of the race. Anybody can run 3K hard, but who is going to have the fight to run the last 2K?
"This is my 13th year here, and we've been to the semistate 11 times. You want to win, but the important thing is survive and advance."
That's going be on the mind of Lincoln's boys team, and North Knox qualifiers sophomore Calvin Crabtree, freshmen Gabe Robarge and Rorri Bottum and sophomore Alexis Petelle.
Among the boys, Lincoln senior Jason Ramirez and Crabtree, who were seventh and eighth at the sectional, have the best chance to extend their seasons another week. Lincoln junior Daxx Weist (19th last week) and senior Nate Harris (23rd) are also candidates, along with Robarge and Bottum, who were 24th in their races a week ago.
PIKE CENTRAL CROSS COUNTRY REGIONAL
When: Boys race, 10:30 a.m. Saturday; Girls race, 11:15 a.m. Saturday
Where: Prides Creek Park, Petersburg
Boys teams: x-South Knox, Gibson Southern, Pike Central, Barr-Reeve, Lincoln, x-Castle, Evansville Reitz, Evansville Central, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North
Girls teams: x-South Knox, Princeton, Barr-Reeve, Pike Central, Gibson Southern, x-Reitz, Castle, North, Memorial, Evansville Mater Dei
County's individual runners: North Knox's Calvin Crabtree, Gabe Robarge, Rorri Bottum, Alexis Petelle
Brown County Semistate advancement: Top five teams, top 10 individuals on non-advancing teams
2020 champions: Boys, Castle; Alex Nolan, Reitz, 15:59. Girls: South Knox; Heidi Meade, Princeton, 19:09