Year makes a difference: Erika Walling

A year ago, Erika Walling wasn’t one of Whiteland’s lead runners when the Warriors took part in a girls cross-country meet. The fact she’s expected to be this season is testament to the improvement the sophomore has made.

“Last year Erika was very new to running,” fourth-year coach Michele McNeill said. “When you come into a sport brand new there’s so much to learn. Endurance, for sure. Running 3.1 miles is not a short race.”

Early in the 2016 season, Walling, then a freshman competing for the Warriors’ junior varsity, posted a time of 25 minutes, 31 seconds at the Rushville Invitational.

Six weeks later, Walling, who had since been promoted to varsity, finished 36th at the Franklin Sectional in 22:29. She then proceeded to chop nearly half a minute off her personal-best time with a 22:07 at the Shelbyville Regional.

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“Last year was my very first time running cross-country. I hadn’t played a sport since volleyball in the seventh grade, so I knew this would be different,” Walling said. “Now I’m just completely in love with the sport.

“No matter what place you finish, everyone is going to be proud of you.”

Hitting her stride — literally — in October, Walling was sorry to see last season end.

The good news is she has three more, starting with the Plainfield Invitational on Aug. 19. A week later Whiteland returns to Rushville where this time Walling figures to factor into the final team standings at the varsity level.

“Erika is surprising herself because she had never pushed herself in those ways,” McNeill said. “I can’t tell you how many times in a meet I’ve said, ‘Go get that girl’, and she does it.”

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.