Eye of the Tiger
FRANCESVILLE — The name Justene Charlesworth carries a lot of weight around LaCrosse High School athletics.
“She’s my idol,” freshman Hailey O’Brien said of the former Tigers cross country, track and basketball star. “When I ran in middle school, I was always like, wow, she’s not only good in cross country, she’s good in basketball and all the other sports. I look up to her so much.”
O’Brien is following in Charlesworth’s footsteps on the cross country course, where she earned her first high school victory in Saturday’s 421 Run at West Central High School.
“I ran all three years in middle school, so I thought I’d try out,” said O’Brien, who also plays volleyball. “At first, I thought it would be great conditioning for other sports, but it turned out I was pretty good. I started liking it and I started winning, so I was like, oh, I’m gonna stick with this. I like it because I made a whole bunch of friends. It was also really cool to see how the team bonded. The teamwork is another reason.”
The LaCrosse freshman vied with West Central’s Camille Weutrich for a good portion of the race before pulling away to a 25-second margin, her winning time 23:15.
“Our coach (Jason Danford) beforehand said to use it like a learning experience,” O’Brien said. “I hadn’t run here for high school yet and I didn’t want to get lost, so I thought, OK, I have to stay behind someone. I stayed next to her a good long way, then I didn’t want it to be a neck-and-neck ending, so I pulled ahead.”
On the boys side, Marquette’s Jake Tarnow was also an easy winner, crossing in 18:30, 15 ticks ahead of Trenton Olling from South Central.
“My legs felt good,” Tarnow said. ”(North White’s Dominick Hernandez and I) were matching stride. When we got to the cement, I noticed he was wearing spikes so I sped up. The third mile, I broke away. It was a little slow race overall, but I didn’t want to bust it out and die.”
A semistate qualifier last year, Tarnow’s been buoyed by the addition of coach Mike Bogan, whom he ran for as a student at St. Paul’s in Valparaiso dating back to fifth grade.
“It’s nice to have him back,” Tarnow said. “He pushes me. I give a lot of credit to him. I trust him 100 percent. The workouts are better. I’m feeling stronger. I’m treating my body right and it’s paying off. I just have to keep working hard and remember my goal (to make state).”
LaCrosse edged South Central 64-69 for the girls team title. The five other schools had incomplete teams.
“We only have five kids so with the slippery conditions, I really wanted to just use it as a learning experience,” Danford said. “There’s no leeway. You always want to do your best but we want to make sure we have a full team for the (Porter County Conference) meets. I’m tickled for the group. They’ve come a long way in a short time. If they keep improving at the rate they are, they’re going to continue to be competitive.”
Victory Christian topped South Central 39-52 for boys honors with Marquette (92) edging LaCrosse (95) for third.