Times Sports Editor
The 2007 edition of the IHSAA State Cross Country Finals begins this afternoon with the girls' race at 1 p.m. on the LaVern Gibson Course.
The opportunity for area runners to compete on the same course that the NCAA Championship will take place on is a special opportunity that they've all earned with the work that went in to the last year.
For fans, it's also a great chance to see some athletes that might later earn the chance to run on the same course in college.
Northview junior Kylee Thacker gives the race some local flavor as does Shakamak standout Anthony Witt's continuing quest for a state championship after a dominating win in the Bedford North Lawrence Semistate, but there is plenty of other athletes to watch as well.
Outside of this area, the incoming teams from the other three semistates have received the greatest amount of hype concerning championship aspirations.
From the Franklin Central Semistate, the Fishers boys' team has gotten all the publicity this season and some have discussed the Tigers as a team that will go down amongst the best of all-time.
The Tigers are nationally ranked and No. 1 in Indiana and have junior Drew Shields up front as their top runner. He's run a 4:13 1,600 meters in track and he's not even the individual favorite in the race.
That honor likely goes to Mike Fouts of second ranked LaPorte.
After winning the New Prairie Semistate by nearly 45 seconds in 15:17, he served notice that he's the runner to beat.
Fout's is followed closely by Witt and a combination that includes Shields' teammate, Cale Allen, as well as Fort Wayne Carroll's James Martin, a freshman who wowed the New Haven Semistate last weekend. With a win in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference Meet, Zionsville's Dylan Sorensen has reached notoriety as well.
In the girls' meet, all eyes will be on the quest by Culver Academy's Alex Banfich and the Westfield team's quest for a third straight championship.
According to the Hoosier Authority's website, no individual girl has won three straight titles since Kankakee's Celeste Susnis had the title from 1987-1989. Courtney Adam's of Indianapolis Brebeuf won three titles in her four years.
A title by Banfich today would put her in line for the title as perhaps the best Indiana runner ever.
The Westfield Shamrocks are the clear favorite in this meet, but have some tough competition in the finals.
The Shamrocks have two returning runners who were second and eighth in last year's state finals and have added freshman Waverly Neer who has the potential to be an all-state member as well.
Carmel could be just the ones to down the Shamrocks and have had plenty of state championship success in the past. With no clear frontrunner, but a front running pack, the Greyhounds could provide some serious challenges to Westfield if the Shamrocks stumble at all.
A wet course is predicted today with continued rain in the forecast, which should keep the pack a little closer as the course slows down a bit.
Lake Central won their semistate with a remarkable total of 32 points, nearly unheard of, and placed all five of their scoring runners under 19:37.
The state finals are always a special occasion and today's meet has plenty of subtext with local participants and should provide great entertainment until the final runner crosses the line.