TERRE HAUTE —
Records are definitely meant to be broken; athletes today are faster and stronger than those in the past in many endeavors in athletics.
This year, in distance running in particular, record-breaking times seem to be the norm.
One example is Indiana State freshman John Mascari, the Sycamores’ new 8,000-meter cross country record holder with his time of 23 minutes, 55 seconds.
Saturday’s Indiana high school meet was another example. Five girls ran faster than previous record for a state finals 5K at LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
Futsum Zienassellassie of Indianapolis North Central is thought by many to be the greatest cross country champion in state history after winning three straight titles from 2009-2011. His time of 14:48.8 in 2011 was fifth fastest in state finals history and by far the fastest at the tough but fair Gibson Course.
Zienasellassie also won the individual title at the Nike Team Nationals last fall.
Mascari raced Futsum for three years of his high school career. He also watched in person as Galen Rupp of Oregon won an NCAA title in Terre Haute. Mascari watched on television as Rupp brought home a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics this summer — the first American medal in the 10,000 since 1964.
“It’s an Olympic year so that makes a difference,” Mascari said. “You just want to go out and run after watching that [Rupp take silver]. I just ran and worked.
Terre Haute South coach Kyle Walsh led the Braves to a program-best eighth-place finish behind junior Jackson Bertoli’s fourth on Saturday. The second-year coach and former ISU runner sees distance running in the U.S. at its best ever.
“The quality of running in the U.S., depth-wise, is better than it’s ever been. That’s trickled down into high school. A lot of people rank us as a top-five state in the nation,” Walsh said.
The Columbus North boys program has been one of the best in the state for many years, and its club team was ninth in the nation in the Nike Team Nationals last year.
The Carmel girls team won the team title once again Saturday. The Greyhounds’ club team finished fifth in the 2011 Nike Team Nationals.
“We have some of the top distance runners in the country, especially in the girls race,” Terre Haute North girls coach Mike Dason said in the days leading up to Saturday’s state finals. Dason also said these last few years he’s watched the depth of his team develop to unprecedented levels.
“I’d have never imagined having all my girls in the 19s and 18s [for a 5K],” said Dason, who also coached TaPring Goatee to an individual title in 2009.
Bertoli’s certainly enjoying being a part of it all in Cross Country Town, USA.
“I definitely consider us one of the better running states in the nation. Some of these teams, Carmel girls, are ranked No. 1 in the nation right now. It’s just aweseome to be in this era of awesome running,” said Bertoli, who appears to definitely have Division I cross country in his future.
Times are fast at that level as well, ISU men’s cross country and track coach John McNichols said recently.
“I think it’s happening particularly in distance area and there’s several reasons I think for that. One is the communication is so incredible right now with the Internet. Everybody knows what the workouts are, there really isn’t any hiding anymore what are the workouts of the really great runners. That’s seeping down even to the high school level; they know what it takes,” McNichols said. “And then we’ve been able to change the mindset here in the United States; instead of ‘We have to find the magic workout,’ now we know it’s just work. The reason the Kenyans have been good for so long is they work. We’ve finally accepted that and we’ve upped our workload throughout every level, and we’re starting to see the results of that.”
Indiana has taken a stage in the emergence of distance running in America. For a smaller state as far as population, the Hoosier state is producing a lot of Division I cross country talent.
With Terre Haute’s own Zach Mayhew playing a big role, the Indiana University team has been a top-10 team in the NCAA the past two years, and Mayhew could have a future beyond college.
Hoosier runners are also heading to prestigious programs all round the nation.
Indiana’s single-class cross country race is nearly unique to the sport, with Hawaii being the only other state to not have multiple classes. Many states have five or six classes.
Boys champion Connor Sorrells hails from Barr-Reeve, a Class A school with about 300 students. With class cross country, he’d have never known if he would have outraced every single runner in the state.
Walsh thinks the current format is a reason Indiana is developing talent so well.
“I credit Indiana’s success, for a small state, is that we have one class race,” Walsh said. “We’re one of the only states that still have that. It’s everybody versus everybody. One class has really made the state strong in running.”
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The IHSAA state finals will return for a 10th straight year in 2013, and the NCAA Championships will be back in 2013 after a one-year absence.
Mascari is looking to qualify for the NCAAs in Louisville, however.
His win at the MVC Championships on Saturday was the Sycamores’ first ever individual title.
“I was surprised, I heard a while ago that no one from ISU had ever won it,” Mascari said Saturday. “I was a little surprised I was able to come up with the win. My teammates helped me out throughout the whole race. Thankfully I was able to finish first.”
Mascari sounds humble, but he’s clearly at an all-time high as far as confidence goes. The NCAA Regional is in two weeks at Wisconsin, which will be his first collegiate 10K race. Mascari, Al Escalera and Dustin Betz will all have a chance at qualifying as individuals, which means being in the top four runners on nonqualifying teams.
“What I’ve been thinking is the longer the distance the better,” Mascari said. “I know Al’s good in the 10K. Betz has been in really good shape. I think we’ll all be really fit.
“I was really motivated. Just wanted to come out here and make it the best freshman year you could ask for.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarCraig.