ELKHART — Lauren Dibley never wavered or asked 'why me?'

The Elkhart Central senior had worked hard in the summer to get ready for her final year of cross country, hoping to make a return trip to the IHSAA state finals in October.

Then the bad news came. A lower leg stress reaction was diagnosed after she felt pain in the leg prior to the start of the 2019 season.

Was she disappointed? Of course.

But Dibley trusted the healing process and head coach Bekah Shenk and her Blue Blazer teammates made sure their captain remained a vital part of the team.

"It was really disappointing to put all the training in during the summer and to be really ready to reach my goals this season and then have the leg injury set me back,'' Dibley said. "But it was much better to have the injury early in the year as opposed to right now.''

"It was tough to see her injured after all the work she did to get ready,'' Shenk said. "But she did a lot of cross training with us – biking instead of running – and she's had the mindset to be peaking at the right time for the state tournament of her senior year.''

It looks like that plan is working very well.

After returning for the County Clash in mid-September, Dibley is now back and running near the front of the pack once again.  She finished seventh at the Elkhart Sectional two weeks ago with a time of 20:15, before improving to fifth at last week's regional (19:48).

On Saturday, Dibley will lead her Blue Blazer teammates to the New Haven Semistate, where they will attempt to reach the finals in Terre Haute on Nov. 2.

"I believe I'm 100 percent healthy, but I haven't had as much time as I'd like to put the work in,'' Dibley said. "But I feel good and I'm really close to being one of the top individuals to advance from New Haven. I will have to drop some time to do it, but I think I'm capable of doing it and I'll be ready to race on Saturday.''

Although she was unable to run in meets during the first half of the Blue Blazers' season, Shenk said the two-time team captain was still a vital part of the team.

"Lauren definitely made her presence felt both at practice and meets,'' Shenk said. "I thought she set a great example of how to be a teammate, plus the younger kids all look up to her and she was more than happy to answer their questions.''

"I think the girls on the team and I have a very close bond,'' Dibley added. "I still went to every practice and I was in the right mindset to support them. I believe they see me as a role model because I've been running for so long and I'm always glad to help.''

Even when she did come back, Dibley knew it would take a lot more work to be ready for the state tournament.

"It was so difficult to run that day,'' Dibley recalled about the County Clash. "I had hoped to be a little faster, but I wasn't too disappointed because I knew it would take more training to get back to where I wanted to be. I couldn't go all out and had to take it a little easier, which wasn't fun.''

Dibley comes from a family of runners, including her sister Amanda, who ran at Taylor University and brother Nathan, now a freshman running track at North Central College in Illinois. Both Amanda (2015) and Lauren's mom, the former Rochelle Krause (1987), won the Catherine Wolf Award honoring the top female athlete in Elkhart Schools, while Nathan won the Bringle Award, honoring the top Elkhart senior male athlete, last spring.

"Most of my siblings have run, so I just started running with my family in elementary school,'' Dibley said. "When I got to middle school I started to really concentrate on cross country and track.''

The improvement Dibley has shown since her freshman year at Central has been striking. After finishing 17th at sectional and 99th as semistate as a freshman, Dibley improved to second at sectional in 2018 and eighth at both the regional and semistate last season. She also came home 32nd at the state meet last fall.

Dibley's biggest win to date came last September at the prodigious New Prairie Invitational, where she posted the fastest time among the female runners in all classes with an 18:38.6.

"I believe Lauren's biggest improvement came between her sophomore and junior year when she really worked and put a tremendous amount of time in,'' Shenk said. "She was at every workout that summer, even though she was the only one there sometimes. "She was putting in 50 miles a week and her 10-mile runs were at an eight-minute pace. That's when we could tell she was ready for a breakout season.''

In addition to her win at New Prairie in 2018, Dibley also won the Culver Invitational and the Northern Indiana Conference race. She finished second to friend and Elkhart Memorial rival Morgan Dyer at the Elkhart Sectional.

Dibley plans to run track again this spring for the Blue Blazers, but her competitive career will likely end there as she does not plan to run in college. She is planning to major in psychology at Purdue University with a plan to become a psychiatrist.

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