Bonner consistently storms to strong finishes – Chesterton Tribune

Bonner consistently storms to strong finishes  Chesterton Tribune

If Chesterton senior Catherine White’s running form at the end of a grueling cross country race calls to mind a carefree stroll in the sand accompanied by a gentle breeze, then Ciara Bonner’s beckons the sounds and sights of an angry sea. Foreboding sky. Whitecaps crashing. Slapped boats tilting, creaking. Impending doom.

This can’t possibly end well. Except it does.

Bonner wears the agony of a 5,000-meter race as she pushes to the finish line. Will she make it? She will, it’s just that watching her makes it difficult not to ask that question.

She won’t only make it she’ll make it in good time. A sophomore, Bonner has been a solid No. 3 to seniors Bailey Ranta and White for a Chesterton girls cross country team coming off a regional championship and gunning for its second consecutive semi-state title Saturday at New Prairie.

Wherever Bonner places Saturday, it’s a safe assumption that she won’t leave anything in the tank and might even seek comfort on the grass shortly after the finish line.

“That’s her every time,” Chesterton coach Lindsay Moskalick said. “That’s what she needs to do and that’s what is awesome about her.”

No points are awarded for style in cross country, just for placement in the race, the lower the better. Bonner finished eighth at the regional meet at Sunset Hill, following Ranta at third and White at fifth.

“Ciara’s just got grit,” Moskalick said. “When that gun goes off, I know that she’s going to race the entire 3.1 miles, and when it comes down to the finish, watch out for whoever’s around her because she’s going to fight you until the end. She’s a racer, and that’s what you want everyone to have, be a racer and go for it every time.”

You wouldn’t know it by looking at her expression as she negotiates terrain that snakes around trees and up hills, testing the will of competitors at every twist and turn, but Bonner loves cross country.

She’s not participating to get in shape for track and field season or to have something to do until basketball starts.

She loves running cross country in and of itself, despite the agony that comes with training and racing.

For starters, she loves competing and doesn’t every form of competition include some degree of anguish, mental or physical, or in this case both?

But it’s more than that. In a sport that determines team winners simply by adding together the places of the top five individuals, the sixth to break ties, Bonner loves it because of the way the team bonds. That alone is proof that there is far more to competing than the competition itself.

Don’t judge this book by its cover during a race. Why does she so enjoy cross country?

“You get to do it with people you love,” Bonner said. “They’re like family.” In the spring, Bonner runs the 800 meters, the mile and the two-mile, the middle of those three distances being her favorite.

Some distance runners prefer to run on grass and dirt, mud and tree roots, at forever changing elevations on courses that have their own personalities. Others do better running ovals, over and over, on flat, smoother surfaces. Bonner’s preference has little to do with the terrain or the changes in elevation and everything to do with people.

“I think cross country is more fun than track,” Bonner said. “I feel like the team chemistry is a lot better. I feel like in cross country the team is smaller, so you get to know everyone better.”

Generally speaking, an athlete doesn’t play varsity basketball as a freshman without loving the sport, an enjoyable one to play, and Bonner is no exception. So, what she said next revealed the depth of how much she’s enjoying herself this autumn.

“I’ve definitely started to love cross country way more than basketball,” Bonner said. “Basketball’s been my main sport since I was young, but ever since I started cross country, the team chemistry, it really gets to you, and you become a family and you love the sport a little bit more.”

It’s OK to love the sport and hate where it takes you sometimes. Chesterton’s boys and girls cross country teams advanced to Saturday’s semi-state at New Prairie. Both teams have run the course twice already this year, and it’s not that they hate it, but there is one stretch of it that makes it tough to love.

It’s called “Agony Hill.” “It takes a lot to get up that hill,” Bonner said.

She shared how she handles the sometimes muddy incline up through the woods in the middle of the race.

“Go through more controlled, work your way up, take your time, I guess,” Bonner said. “Don’t attack it full on. Go up more conservatively.”

Bonner was not born knowing how to approach the brief eternity of agony. A runner can be told similar advice about Agony Hill, but there is no teacher like experience.

“I learned that the hard way,” Bonner said.

The lesson came the first time she ran it at the New Prairie Invite in her freshman season.

“I attacked it hard and learned that you lose a lot of your energy throughout the rest of the race,” she said.

Her intended approach Saturday: “Go your normal pace, then when you get to the hill, slow down a little, work your way up it, and then take off when you’re done with it.”

Chesterton coach Lindsay Moskalick rested three runners in the sectional meet, three different ones at the regional, with an eye toward the semi-state and state meets. The Trojans will run a full squad at the remaining two meets and there will be no holding back.

If all goes well Saturday, Ranta and White will be ahead of Bonner, but not out of contact, and junior Alyssa Dunlap and senior Bree Gentry will be close behind her with senior Grace Carpenter pushing them and either senior Bella Smith or sophomore Ali Sierazy delivering a personal best.

The girls will try to defend their semi-state title. The top six teams from each of the four sites advance to the state meet in Terre Haute on Oct. 30, as do the top 10 individuals from non-qualifying teams from each site.

The Chesterton boys squad also will attempt to defend its title. The Trojans’ top seven finishers at the regional meet at Sunset Hill were Cole Dolson, Jackson Tuck, Evan O’Connor, Reece Erow, Bobby Berger, Joshua Tuck and Max Welbourne. Dolson and Erow are seniors, the Tuck twins and Berger juniors, O’Connor and Welbourne sophomores.