By GREG MENGELT
FLOYDS KNOBS —
Floyd Central freshman Lydia Kotowski will take on the state’s elite cross country runners on Saturday at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.
In just her second year in cross country, Kotowski — the area’s lone state finalist — believes that she can finish in the top-25 and earn All-State honors.
Before the season — even before the Crawford County Regional — that would have been unthinkable. After back-to-back standout performances, the goal is within reach.
After finishing third at the Crawford County Sectional in a time of 20:20, Kotowski took 1:22 off her time over the next two weeks. She crossed the line in fourth place at the Crawford Regional in 19:18. The following week, she scorched the Brown County Semi-state course in 18:58 in a ninth-place finish.
“We’re going up there with the idea that she can be All-State,” Highlander coach Carl Hook said. “She ran 18:58 last year and last year 19-flat was the 25th spot, so we know she’s right there. I think she has a chance at All-State. If she does great. If not, it will still be a great experience for her.”
Kotowski has used her intelligence, talent and confidence into a state finals position.
“She is a very intelligent girl,” Hook said. “That helps a ton. She’s a confident girl because she does well at everything she does. She does what it takes to be successful.”
Kotowski spent a few minutes answering questions minutes from News and Tribune sports editor Greg Mengelt before going on the High School Sports Report with Matt Denison radio show on Thursday night.
QUESTION: Last year, obviously you were in middle school. You probably didn’t know what it takes to go to a high school cross country state finals. Did it ever occur to you coming into your freshman year that you might be running in the state finals this year?
KOTOWSKI: “Not at all. My parents and I were actually talking about this the other day. I remember going to camp in July and we were worried about me making the top-seven [on the Floyd Central varsity]. I never thought I would be going to state. It’s just been a crazy turn of events.”
Q: Tell me about Saturday’s semi-state. At what point did you think to yourself, “Wow! I might be a state finalist?”
KOTOWSKI: “It was probably actually a little before the race. My coach and my parents and I had been talking. The whole mood was that if I go out and run my hardest, there was a chance that either the team could or I would make it.”
Q: Because of your performance at the regional?
Q: At what point on the course at semi-state, did you say to yourself, “I got this?”
KOTOWSKI: “At the starting line.”
Q: Your team came up just a handful of points from advancing to state. How much would you have liked to have been running with your team at state?
KOTOWSKI: “A lot. It would have been very nice to have the whole team there. But a lot of them are coming out to support me, which is great. That’s been one of the things that has been going on all year. We all support each other. Whether it would have been me going or Madison Barney or Alyssa [Moore], we would all be right there cheering for each other.”
Q: Alyssa was your top runner most of the season, but she got sick just before the semi-state and missed her chance to run with you. How bad do you feel for her that she fell ill at the wrong time?
KOTOWSKI: “Pretty bad. We were all hoping to all go there together, but things happen.”
Q: At regional, you seemed to find a different gear. Suddenly you were a minute faster than you had ever been. What changed for you?
KOTOWSKI: “I actually had a dream where I saw myself running the course and I saw my time coming across. After I had that dream, I had that time in my head and I knew I could do it because I’d already seen myself do it, if that makes any sense. After I had that dream, I knew I could do well. I just had to tell myself I was going to do well and hopefully the team could do as well, or even better.”
Q: What are your expectations for Saturday? What do you want to accomplish and what do you believe you can accomplish?
KOTOWSKI: “The goal would be to be in the top-25 and to be All-State. For sure, I’d like to [get a personal record] and go out on a good note.”
Q: Obviously, you’ve never ran in a race like this. What do you envision it being like in Terre Haute?
KOTOWSKI: “Very crowded. This is the best of the best in Indiana. It’s going to be totally different. I really don’t know quite what to expect from it.”
Q: Now that you’re in the state finals as a freshman, what do you think is in store for you the next three years going forward?
KOTOWSKI: “I just always want to do my best and work hard and be a good model for kids coming up that are in sixth grade now so they want to run.”
Q: Do you plan on running track in the spring?
Q: What events are you planning on running?
KOTOWSKI: “I honestly have no idea. I have only run track for one season and that was in middle school. I did the one mile and 800[-meter run]. I want to be open to everything just to see what I like best. Probably I’ll end up doing distance, though — two mile and one mile.”
Q: So do you go into track with higher expectations knowing what you’ve accomplished in cross country?
KOTOWSKI: “Hopefully it will go as well as cross [country] has gone. Obviously, I just expect myself to do my best and good things will follow with hard work.”