TERRE HAUTE – Each year, Katherine Free has made progress.
As a freshman, the Cathedral standout distance runner placed 32nd in the girls cross country state meet. She improved to 24th as a sophomore and last year made the podium with a 10th-place finish.
So, her runner-up finish to Carmel’s Sarah Leinheiser in Saturday’s state finals at the LaVern Gibson course in Terre Haute was quite the capper to Free’s high school career.
Free moved to the front of the pack about halfway through the race before Leinheiser and Pendleton Heights’ Alex Buck took charge and edged ahead. Buck faded, though, and Free outdueled West Lafayette’s Lauren Johnson for second in a personal best 17 minutes, 52 seconds.
“I feel awesome,” Free said. “About halfway, I felt like I was falling back a little bit. I just rechecked and started gunning for third place. On the home stretch, I saw my opportunity and just kicked it in. It’s a surreal experience.”
It looked like it would be Buck and Leinheiser battling it out over the final 1,000 meters of the 5K race, but as Leinheiser pulled ahead around the final loop, Buck faded fast. She walked the final 400 meters and crossed the finish line in 70th. Buck had to be carried off by teammates after the finish, appearing too exhausted to walk.
“I’m not sure what happened,” said Arabians coach Melissa Hagerman. “I can tell you right now that nobody prepared any more for it than she did. She wanted this like no other, but she has a lot ahead of her.”
Zionsville sophomore Sophia Rigg was sixth and Avon’s Taylor Nicholson finished ninth.
Carmel won the girls race with 70 points and Fort Wayne Carroll (158) was second. Cathedral (203) was fourth behind Columbus North (170). Zionsville (205) finished fifth. Just 37 points separated fifth through 10th place.
Boys competitors close
The boys race had some close team scores, as well. Carmel won with 115 points and Fishers was second with 158. Westfield had its best finish in school history, placing third with 210 points to edge Carroll (212).
Fishers’ top five runners finished within 20 seconds of each other.
“They performed well,” said Tigers coach Nathan Warnecke. “A lot of them had the best times they’ve ever had on this course. We couldn’t ask for much more.”
Alec Hartman placed the Shamrocks with his 14th-place finish.
“It’s been a career-long goal to make the podium,” said Westfield 12th-year coach Greg Albert. “Every decision we’ve made since last November was to be up here.”
Carmel senior Ben Veatch repeated as the boys champion in 14:59. Mount Vernon senior Christian Noble finished fourth overall in 15:24. He placed 16th last year. Brownsburg senior Hari Sathymurtha was fifth in 15:28. Hamilton Southeastern sophomore Gabe Fendel (15:33) took ninth place.