By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – They will stand alone, surrounded by a thundering herd, staring ahead at a 600-yard sprint through the first phase of the fastest race they’ll run all season.
Bedford North Lawrence’s Cooper Holmes, Ethan Vaughn and Myra Roberts face an extreme, daunting challenge in Saturday’s IHSAA semistate race at Brown County. Run, run faster than ever, run through a prowling pack, run to the final goal.
BNL’s talented trio will compete in the third stage of the state tournament series, hoping to secure one of the elusive invitations to the state championship race in Terre Haute on Oct. 27. The top 10 individuals who are not members of the six state qualifying teams will advance to the grand finale.
In a field of 180 competitors, with four regionals feeding into the semistate, that’s a difficult assignment. The Stars hold no grand illusions. But they will not back down. As underclassmen, they will be learning valuable information for the future, as well as chasing today’s dream.
Roberts, a sophomore, is the first BNL girls runner to reach this level in five years. Holmes and Vaughn, both juniors, are the first Stars in four years to qualify for the boys race. They will race to set personal records, and if that’s fast enough to gallop with the frontrunners, that would be outstanding.
“We’re not expecting to get out to state,” BNL girls coach Jill Vance said. “That’s a tall challenge as an individual. It’ll be a fast field. It will be a great experience, to have the other girls watching and get them excited for next season. We want to build on this and move forward. This is the next step.”
Roberts finished 26th in the regional with a career-best time of 20:47.22. Brown County’s flat, quick course (since it’s not covered by a foot of mud, which was the case when the Stars competed in the Eagle Classic earlier this year) and cool temperatures will set a perfect stage for lower times.
“I’m not going to stress out,” Roberts said. “This is a big deal, because I’ve trained for a long time to get where I am.“
Holmes and Vaughn took a similar path. Vaughn was 30th in the regional race on his home course in 17:24.26, while Holmes was 35th in 17:34.25. Both will shoot for sub-17 finishes. That’s quite a chunk of time to cull.
“They should be able to do that, with the talent, the competition, the weather,” BNL boys coach Jon Calhoun said. “This is a great step. Our team is still young, so it shows we’re up and coming.”
The key at Brown County is the start. Once the crowd reaches the end of the straightaway, the course narrows and passing opportunities are less frequent as the competitors make two tours of the layout. No hills, just thrills.
”I just run my race,” Vaughn said. “I kind of know where I need to be and the people I need to be around. It’s like any other race, just better competition. I will have other people pushing me.”
“I’m not sure what to expect, but I”m very excited for the race,” Holmes said. “It’s a fast course and it will have very fast people. I’m going to try to get out quick enough to get in good position and try to hold a good pace.
“Making it a step further is the goal every year, and now I’m just a step away from the ultimate goal. I’m not sure what Saturday holds, but if I don’t make it out, I will make sure to come back next year and make that final step.”
The state finals are set for the LaVern Gibson Course in Terre Haute.