West Lafayette’s Bobbie Burgess thrives on the hills and wooded trails of the fall cross country season.
The senior admits that running circles on synthetic tracks in the spring challenges one’s concentration. But at Saturday’s state meet at Indiana University, one of the area’s most decorated distance runners locked her focus on one runner: Mishawaka sophomore Anna Rohrer.
Burgess could not catch the Caveman standout, a cross country national champion, but she managed one final milestone in a stellar career. The future Georgetown runner finished as Rohrer’s runner-up at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex.
“It’s definitely enjoyable to do it that way and end on a high note,” said Burgess, who finished seventh in the 3,200 as a junior. “It just takes a lot of dedication to make sure you’re getting better; staying on top of things, even more than you were the day before.”
One night after Lafayette Jeff’s boys won three event championships en route to a runner-up team finish, a handful of medal-winning girls ensured a strong finish to the weekend for area athletes.
West Lafayette’s 3,200 relay team of Susan Hubbard, Kristen Johnson, Lauren Johnson and Cailey Daluga finished third and broke the school record. Rensselaer discus thrower Chelsie Meeks repeated last year’s runner-up performance.
McCutcheon junior Elizabeth Burton finished fourth in the 400 while breaking her previous personal best by nearly eighth tenths of a second.
By the third lap of the eight-lap 3,200, Burgess had moved into the top three. But Rohrer soon pulled to a sizeable lead, challenged only by the record book.
Rohrer crossed the finish line in 10:22.68 — two hundredths of a second off of the state meet record set by Culver Academies’ Waverly Neer in 2011.
“I’ve raced against her before, and that’s how she always does it,” said Burgess, who hugged Rohrer immediately after the finish. “So I was expecting that. I tried to hang with it, but it was a little bit too fast for me.”
In addition to her state hardware and school record in the 3,200, Burgess was also a two-time third-place finisher at the state cross country meet. Not bad for someone who barely made the Red Devils’ lineup as a freshman.
“I would have bet a million dollars when she was a freshman that she would never have broken even 12 minutes in the 3,200, and she’s running 10:30s,” West Lafayette cross country coach Steve Lewark said. “And she did it herself with just hard work. I bet she’s put in more miles than any other girl in the state. … She’s just worked hard and done everything that needed to be done to improve herself.”
West Lafayette’s 3,200 relay squad began the season with state championship aspirations. When they saw Eastern (Howard)’s impressive postseason times, the Red Devils knew that title might be out of reach.
Eastern lived up to the hype by winning in 8:53.74 — the fastest time in the nation this season and a new state meet record by over 10 seconds. (Chesterton won in 9:03.77 in 2006.)
Fort Wayne Carroll pulled away for second place, but Daluga fought off Terre Haute North on the anchor leg to secure third place in 9:07.61. That school-record time would have won the championship at every other state meet except 2006.
According to Dyestat.com, West Lafayette would rank as the ninth-fastest 3,200 relay in the nation with that time. Indianarunner.com ranks them the fourth-fastest squad ever in Indiana.
“Sadly we didn’t get to compete against those two teams at all during the year, but at least we got one race against them and we really showed them what we’ve got,” said Daluga, a future Purdue runner who also finished 11th in the 800. “I’m nothing but proud of how fast we ran today. Everybody put their best into every moment of that race.”
A smart opening leg by Hubbard sparked the Red Devils. Back in the pack for most of her two laps, Hubbard maintained her planned pace before surging in the final 200 meters to put West Lafayette up front.
“On Thursday we went over to (Lewark’s) house and watched other 4×8 teams,” said Hubbard, whose opening split ranks as the second-fastest 800 in school history. “It was Jessica Gall who was way in the back and then she fought forward. That’s kind of what I was thinking when I was running.”
Meeks returned to Bloomington with designs on joining Michelle Luecke (1986) and Julie Koebcke (1991) as discus state champions from Rensselaer. Yet she, too, was foiled by a record-breaking performance.
Top-seeded Lawrence Central junior Adriana Brown launched a throw of 168 feet, 6 inches in the preliminaries. That toppled the previous record of 165-4 set by Edgewood’s Stacy Martin in 1999.
Meeks could not improve on her opening prelim throw of 144-8.
“It’s crazy — I don’t even know what to say,” Meeks said. “She had a great day, and she’s had an awesome season. She’s a great thrower, and she’s only a junior.”
Meeks tried to use the crosswind to her advantage in the finals, but the breeze couldn’t carry the necessary distance. With a pair of runner-up finishes on her résumé, Meeks now turns her focus to competing at Purdue.
“It stinks that I never won, but it’s second place — you can’t really complain,” Meeks said. “One of the previous state champions (Koebcke) was here; she coaches me. And coach (Gene) Edmonds has coached all of them. It’s cool to be part of that group with all that history.”
Burton said a Friday massage at Christina & Company helped loosen her up going into the meet. Actually, she worried she was too relaxed.
“Something that was abnormal for me — a lot of times right before a race, I get really nervous,” Burton said. “I was sitting under the tent and I just had this calm. It kind of worried me, because I’m not normally like that. I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to be good or bad.’ “
Burton’s mood shifted from chill to thrilled when she saw her fourth-place time of 56.85. She broke 57 seconds for the first time and lowered her previous school-record time of 57.62.
“It’s such a surreal moment,” Burton said. “I can’t even believe it. … It’s an amazing feeling.”