FORT WAYNE — The Mt. Vernon cross-country team has an unwritten rule. After any 5K race, a runner shouldn’t physically be able to hold a conversation for at least five minutes.
Aaron Rush needed more time than that Saturday as he crossed the finish line and collapsed to the ground in exhaustion at the New Haven Semistate.
Known for making late kicks down the stretch in his career, the senior pushed his body to the limit at the Plex in Fort Wayne, passing South Adams’ Bailey McIntire only feet from the finish to take third place in 15 minutes, 53.57 seconds.
Rush’s mad dash gave Mt. Vernon two runners in the top three — with Christian Noble taking first (15:18.50) — and put the Marauders in third overall, good enough for a coveted state berth — the team’s fifth in school history.
“That’s probably one of the best kicks I’ve had all year,” Rush said nearly an hour after he caught his breath. “I just got focused and thought of my team. I knew we needed it. We always need one more point, it might be the difference between in or out in this sport, so I was just thinking about that.”
With five runners in the top 120, the Marauders made the state cut with 146 team points, 16 behind runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia. Fort Wayne Carroll successfully defending its team title with 84 points.
A year ago, the Marauders qualified for state with a runner-up finish. It led to a 17th team placement at the state finals.
Falling in the semistate team standings this time, the Marauders made up for it individually, beginning with Noble.
Winning his third straight regional this past week with a personal-best 14:55.3, the senior collected his first career semistate title while avenging his only loss this season.
Passed up by Homestead’s Brayden Law during the New Haven Invitational on the same course last month, Noble took control early in their second meeting.
“I wanted to make it an honest race from the start,” Noble said. “He’s got a crazy good kick. If he’s within about 20 meters, he can take pretty much anyone. He’s a really strong runner.”
At state last fall, Law placed 13th ahead of Noble at 16th after the former was 11th at semistate. Noble finished sixth at New Haven as a junior.
“To win semistate alone is a pretty big deal. I think the last Mt. Vernon runner to do it was Jeff Wheeler, who went on to win state the next week (in 1983),” Noble said. “It was a pretty fast start in the beginning, but it’s about having a smart race, and coming around the mile it was me, (Fort Wayne Carroll’s) Cameron Clements and Law.
“At the mile, I knew I could make my move, so I decided it was time.”
Clements, the defending semistate champion ran a 16:13.45 for ninth after posting a 15:30.04 last year. He was 25th at state in 2014. The senior was the top runner for Carroll, which didn’t have anyone place higher than 40th.
“The thing with Rush and Noble, when you finish one and three, it’s like scoring with three people,” Mt. Vernon head coach Bruce Kendall remarked on his final placement. “The bigger the meet, the better it is for us.
“Rush coming through today, beating all these runners, that’s a great 1-2 punch.”
One through seven is what “sealed it,” said Kendall, who had to juggle the lineup with Brian Bozymski sidelined with a respiratory illness. All seven were up to the task.
“There’s always a mass at semistate, a mass of humanity, like a bubble,” Kendall said. “Your kids have to respond to that mass. Some get into that contact and back away. For others, it pushes them. Three got in front of that mass. (Drew) Bluethmann, Ashton (Jordan) and (Brendon) O’Bryhim got in that bubble, and that punched our ticket.”
In the end, though, Rush made the final push.
“You have to have heart to do that. There are things we teach them to do at the finish, but that’s heart because at that point you’re already spent,” Kendall said. “He’s got a heart of a lion.”
New Haven Cross Country Semistate
Note: Top six teams and top 10 individual on non-advancing teams qualify for the state finals in Terre Haute on Oct. 31
Team scores: 1. Carroll (FW) 84, 2. FW Concordia 130, 3. Mt. Vernon 146, 4. Westview 167, 5. Northridge 181, 6. Pendleton Heights 198, 7. Penn 220, 8. FW Snider 233, 9. Mishawaka 237, 10. West Noble 252, 11. New Haven 324, 12. Adams Central 348, 13. Goshen 362, 14. South Adams 368, 15. Eastbrook 370, 16. Anderson 385, 17. Bellmont 396, 18. NorthWood 411, 19. Delta 412, 20. Wapahani 431.
Individual winner: Christian Noble, Mt. Vernon (15:18.50)
Mt. Vernon: 1. Christian Noble, 3. Aaron Rush (15:53.57), 48. Brandt True, 70. Brendon O’Bryhim, 86. Ashton Jordan, 89. Drew Bluethmann, 117. Ayden Millspaugh.
Team scores: 1. Carroll (FW) 69, 2. Pendleton Heights 85, 3. Homestead 114, 4. Penn 115, 5. Northridge 132, 6. Huntington North 180, 7. Dekalb 202, 8. East Noble 212, 9. Mishawaka 244, 10. Oak Hill 273, 11. Bellmont 313, 12. Concord 326, 13. FW Bishop Dwenger 328, 14. New Haven 347, 15. Mishawaka Marian 376, 16. Mt. Vernon 458, 17. Delta 461, 18. Union City 466, 19. South Adams 481, 20. Yorktown 489.
Individual winner: Alex Buck, Pendleton Heights (17:57.14)
Mt. Vernon: 99. Chelsea Foster, 110. Elena Rohrwasser, 129. Erin Lyday, 143. Reagan Woodruff, 149. Leah Chaves, 164. Kaylee Walkey, 167. Chanise Donaldson.