RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central senior distance runner Amzie Maienbrook isn’t one to break tradition.

The Bombers have won four straight individual cross country titles since 2017 and Maienbrook had her sights set on the program’s fifth on Saturday, Oct. 9.

Leading from start to finish, Maienbrook captured her second straight championship on a hot, muggy day. She crossed the finish line in 20 minutes, 18.44 seconds then collapsed in a heap due to the heat.

“When I passed the two mile, I was thinking, I’m going to fall after this,” she said. “My legs are going to give out once I stop running.”

Maienbrook’s time was over 10 seconds better than Kankakee Valley sophomore Emma Bell, who claimed runner-up at sectional for the second straight season. Bell’s time was 20:28.91 as she also struggled to stay upright after the race.

The 10-second difference has become common for the two rivals and friends.

“I love Emma,” Maienbrook said. “We trained for nationals together in November and we really get along well. We have very similar racing styles, so it’s always even. When we don’t run in the same race, if I go look at her results, we’re normally within 10 seconds of one another. It’s nice to have someone pushing you.”

Times were several seconds slower for many of the runners, including Maienbrook, who enjoys running in 40-degree weather over days dripping with humidity and in the 80s.

“It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but given the weather and the conditions it just had to be the best you could do,” Maienbrook said of her time. “(Coach Sid) Dobson had us run some pretty hard practices this week. At the end of the day, we’re not preparing for sectionals, but regionals and semistate and state.”

Maienbrook finishes her sectional career as one of the most successful runners in girls’ championship history. Besides two straight wins, Maienbrook has two runner-up finishes, placing second to former teammate Kelsie Wuethrich in 2018 and 2019.

Maienbrook knew the sectional’s best runners would place a target on her back in hopes of upsetting the Bomber senior.

“For me, the big thing is knowing I earned that target,” she said. “Coming into my freshman year, nobody knew who I was and it was definitely something I wanted. I wanted that target on my back. It’s definitely a tradition I wanted to continue, not just for me but for the team. I think, for me, it’s remembering who I’m running for and that’s not necessarily for myself. I’m running for my teammates, I’m running for my coaches, I’m running for my past self for putting in all those miles to get here and where I am today. That allows me to put that target aside and be like you’re here for a reason and you’ve earned that title and earned that target on your back.”

Bomber runners have now claimed six of the last seven titles, with Morgan Fleming winning in 2015 and ’17, Wuethrich in ’18 and ’19 and Maienbrook in ’20 and ’21. Former KVHS standout Cat Cavinder kept RCHS runners from claiming a title in 2016, beating Wuethrich, who also enjoyed two wins and two runner-up finishes for her career.

The Bombers finished 1, 12, 16, 17 and 22 to place third in the team race. Morgan Township won the title after putting four runners in the top 10 and seven in the top 15 to earn 40 points.

Runner-up Kouts had 57 points and Kankakee Valley (91) and Covenant Christian (106) also advanced to next week’s regional in Valparaiso. It’s Covenant’s first trip to regional as a team in school history.

Joining Maienbrook on Rensselaer’s scorecard were Elizabeth Knoth (12th in 22:46.98), Solcy Sanchez (16th in 23:15.25), Audrey Korniak (17th in 23:24.11 in her first sectional), and Audrey Davisson (23rd in 23:43.48).

Anna Black and Annalise Yeager also competed for the Bombers, who came in as defending champions.

Following Bell on KV’s scorecard were Emilee Wilson (11th in 22:44.27), Addison Johnson (25th in 24:02.33), Natalee Walker (27th in 24:23.26), and Juliana Barlog (29th in 24:29.49).

Covenant Christian runners who scored were Gabbi Zeilenga (9th in 22:30.08), Sophie Bakker (20th in 23:35.85), Claire Bakker (22nd in 23:37.74), Hannah Frump (28th in 24:28.96) and Abbey Talarek (31st in 24:48.55). All of Covenant’s runners are dual-sport athletes, with two playing soccer this fall and three playing volleyball.

Knights coach Travis Conley appreciates the commitment of the girls who would find time to get in road work after participating in their primary sports.

“I’ve been working for this for five years to get two full teams together. This is the first girls team to ever compete at sectionals and we’re able to move on,” Conley said.

“When I get to see them, we make the day worth it. I tell them let’s keep training hard. They had a pretty good summer. And that’s a young team. There’s three juniors and two freshmen on the team. I can’t wait to come back next year with them.”

A standout track runner in the spring, Zeilenga — an elite hurdler — had to make perhaps the biggest adjustment to running long distances.

“When she said she was thinking about doing it, I said we can make this work,” Conley said. “It’s a big transformation to go from sprinting to running 3.5 miles. She placed at regionals in the hurdles in seventh place. She’s come a long, long way.”

Covenant’s boys’ team also reached the regional round, which is a first in the program’s short history.

“It’s probably the biggest blessing I’ve ever had in my life,” Conley said of his teams’ accomplishments. “I would say this is definitely the greatest day I’ve ever had. It’s always been a dream of mine to have to full teams and for them to make it to regionals Is huge. We are the third smallest school in Indiana. For us to compete against some of these schools is phenomenal.”

Senior Jonah Ingram’s fourth-place finish in 17:55.80 got the ball rolling for the Knights, who claimed the fifth and final regional spot with 121 points.

They held off West Central’s challenge thanks to freshman Hunter Drain, who placed 14th in 18:34.85. The Trojans also had two runners in the top 20, with Drake and Hayden Fritz placing 15th and 19th, respectively.

Both runners will compete in the regional as individuals.

Besides Ingram and Drain, Covenant got solid runs from senior Nathan Bennett (28th in 20:03.71), senior Amos Terpstra (37th in 20:36.06) and senior Devin Hoffman (43rd in 21:21.24). Ewen McNamara, a sophomore, and senior Peter DeCavitch also competed for the Knights.

Covenant’s strategy was simple: Stay within striking distance of any West Central runner.

“It was to beat maroon,” Conley said. “If you see a maroon jersey, we’ve got to get them. Every point matters and that’s what it came down to. All seven boys did what they were told today. Two runners stepped up their games completely in Amos Terpstra and Hunter Drain. They just completely knocked it out of the park today.

The Knights had two runners finish ahead of West Central’s No. 1 runner.

“We just slipped past West Central today for the boys, and it came down to every single runner. At the Culver meet, they nicked us by a point, and I told them it’s possible,” Conley said.

Morgan Township, propelled by champion Owen Thomas, won the team title with 35 points.

Rensselaer Central finished runner-up with 65 points, followed by rival Kankakee Valley (77) and Kouts (113).

Thomas went wire-to-wire to claim his second straight sectional title. He covered the course in 16:39.36, nearly 30 seconds over runner-up Justin Hoffman of KVHS (17:03.20).

Rensselaer’s Tristen Wuethrich, who finished second to Thomas in the 2020 race, was third in 17:07.79.

Morgan had four runners in the top 10 to hold off RCHS, which had three runners in the top 11 and five runners in the top 25.

KV finished 2, 7, 9, 29 and 30 and fourth-place Kouts was 12, 18, 19, 31 and 33. Fifth-place Covenant scored 4, 14, 27, 35 and 41.

Top 3 finishers in the Rensselaer Central Sectional since 2010:

2010 — Jordan Chester, Boone Grove … Jordan Hanaway, Hebron … Kristin Fritts, Kankakee Valley.

2011 — Tara Hamstra, Kouts … Elle Turman, Morgan Township … Mariah Rodriguez, Boone Grove.

2012 — Michelle Kent, Kankakee Valley … Mickayla Wenzel, West Central … Kendall Gardner, North Judson.

2013 — Mickayla Wenzel, West Central … Riley Hickman, Rensselaer Central … Allison Rockley, Kankakee Valley.

2014 — Justene Charlesworth, LaCrosse … Leeallison Korniak, Rensselaer Central … Halley Haveck, Morgan Township.

2015 — Morgan Fleming, Rensselaer Central … Justene Charlesworth, LaCrosse … Kiersten Duzan, Morgan Township.

2016 — Catherine Cavinder, Kankakee Valley … Kelsie Wuethrich, Rensselaer Central … Morgan Fleming, Rensselaer Central.

2017 — Morgan Fleming, Rensselaer Central … Kelsie Wuethrich, Rensselaer Central … Holly Kuebler, Kouts.

2018 — Kelsie Wuethrich, Rensselaer Central … Amzie Maienrbook, Rensselaer Central … Holly Kuebler, Kouts.

2019 — Kelsie Wuethrich, Rensselaer Central … Amzie Maienbrook, Rensselaer Central … Kassidy Gregory, Kouts.

2020 — Amzie Maienbrook, Rensselaer Central … Emma Bell, Kankakee Valley … Emma Rakowski, Morgan Township.

2021 — Amzie Maienbrook, Rensselaer Central … Emma Bell, Kankakee Valley … Klaire Lemmons, Morgan Township.

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