By CAREY FOX
Times Sports Editor
The LaVern Gibson Course will be the host to the 62nd Annual Boys State Cross Country meet on Saturday as well as the 27th running of the girls' meet.
For the first time since the 2004 meet, the Northview Knights will be represented on the girls' side.
Kylee Thacker placed fourth overall in the Bedford North Lawrence Semistate last weekend with her teammates placing eighth in the same meet.
For first year coach Ryand Tucker, reaching the state finals is a special accomplishment.
"(Reaching the finals) is pretty nice. It's a good feeling for me," said Tucker. "I told the girls at the beginning of the year that they could do it. It's a nice feeling to see the team put their best foot forward."
Though Thacker will be the only Knight to run on Saturday, she will be representing her teammates whose hard work during the offseason and school year helped push Thacker to the IHSAA's biggest stage.
"It was really fun to (reach the semistate as a team)," said Thacker. "We worked really hard to get there, I can't believe it's almost over."
While the season is nearly over, the remaining race will feature the state's top runners.
Last year's state championship, featured 171 girls and 20 teams, but this year's edition was expanded by one extra team per semistate. Twenty-four teams will compete at LaVern Gibson this year.
Northview's regular season schedule has Thacker battle tested after running against the state's top competition in meets like the Culver Invite, the Rushville Invitational as well as the State Preview Meet that was run at the LaVern Gibson Course in September. Saturday's semistate meet included a pair of ranked teams and Tucker feels that the competition has Thacker ready for the finals.
"We've had some all-state caliber competition at the regional and semistate," said Tucker.
With this season being the first that the finals will be contested at the five-kilometer distance, strategy is a bit up in the air for preparing a game plan for the race.
"It's kind of an unknown," said Tucker. "It's hard to know what girls are going to drop time."
But one factor in the Knights favor is their experience with this particular course since they have run on the LaVern Gibson Course multiple times this season alone.
"We know what to expect," said Tucker of the team's knowledge of the course. "We know where to pick our spots."
Thacker has her own plan as well as goals she has set for herself.
"Well I want to get my best time," said the Northview junior. "And I want tot keep the lead runners in sight. It really helps that we've run the course four times this year."
Culver Academy's Alex Banfich has some experience on the course as well. She's become pretty used to leaving with the hardware too.
The senior comes in as the defending champion the past two years and was third as a freshman. The Westfield Cardinals are the two-time defending champs as well and are a favorite to add to their trophy case with a third this weekend.
Thacker's gotten a couple of looks at the state's top runners with a seventh place finish in the State Preview meet that Banfich won by 17 seconds over Fort Wayne Carroll's Chelsea Blanchard, Carmel's Kayla McCurdy and Katy Achtien of Cathedral.
Each of those runners were in the top-15 in the state meet last season so Thacker has a degree of comparison.
"I have certain people that I run with. I think it's a lot different than the four-kilometer race," said Thacker. "At 5 K you can really push yourself."
Pushing the pace has gotten Thacker to the front of a lot of races this season and Saturday's state finals gives her the chance to excel on the brightest of stages. Her teammates can be proud of themselves as well after their push to the semistate. With all but one runner returning next season, perhaps fans will get to cheer on the entire team on the finals' stage.
Until then, Thacker will represent her team and her school in style on Saturday. The girls' race begins at 1 p.m. with admission set at $7 per person.